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Garcia v. Whitaker

Supreme Court of Kentucky

June 20, 2013

BOBBY GARCIA, D/B/A AUTOBAHN AUTOMOTIVE, APPELLANT,
v.
LARRY WHITAKER, APPELLEE

ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NOS. 2009-CA-001407-MR AND 2009-CA-001508-MR PULASKI CIRCUIT COURT NO. 07-CI-00183.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: David Ora Smith, Marcia A. Smith.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Nicholas C. A. Vaughn.

OPINION

CUNNINGHAM, JUSTICE.

Appellant, Bobby Garcia, d/b/a Autobahn Automotive, appeals the Pulaski Circuit Court's order directing a verdict in favor of the Appellee, Larry Whitaker, on the charges of malicious prosecution and abuse of process.

Bobby Garcia owns and operates Autobahn Automotive in Pulaski County, Kentucky. Autobahn Automotive is a sole proprietorship that provides mechanical repairs to foreign vehicles. Larry Whitaker is an attorney who also resides in Pulaski County, Kentucky. In September of 2006, the engine of Whitaker's 1995 Porsche GTS failed to start. The vehicle was brought to Autobahn Automotive. Garcia and Whitaker failed to execute a written contract, but it was understood that Whitaker would pay Garcia upon completion of the necessary repairs.

Garcia ran diagnostics on the vehicle to determine the source of the mechanical failure. Garcia determined that the Porsche had a broken timing belt, an "interference engine, " and a damaged battery. Garcia also uncovered what appeared to be a leak in each of the vehicle's eight cylinders, indicating damage to the valve train. Garcia notified Whitaker that the cost to repair his Porsche would range from $5, 000 to $8, 000. Unbeknownst to Whitaker, Garcia transported the vehicle to Porsche of Lexington for a second opinion. The dealership agreed with Garcia's diagnostics. Garcia determined that it would be more beneficial to have the dealership repair the car because it would provide Whitaker with a two-year warranty, something Garcia himself could not provide. Accordingly, Garcia paid Porsche of Lexington $6, 689.40 to repair Whitaker's vehicle. By early December of 2006, Whitaker's Porsche was finally fixed and transported back to Autobahn Automotive.

On December 4, 2006, Garcia brought to Whitaker at his law office his newly repaired Porsche. What transpired at this meeting is in dispute. Garcia testified that he presented Whitaker with a bill in the amount of $7, 978.74, which the latter refused to pay. Garcia also stated that he offered Whitaker the keys to test drive the vehicle, but Whitaker declined. Whitaker, however, testified that Garcia requested $10, 000. Whitaker refused to pay Garcia absent proof that Garcia had actually purchased the parts he claimed to have installed. Garcia retained possession of Whitaker's Porsche as collateral and agreed to return the following day with receipts.

On December 5, 2012, Garcia returned to Whitaker's office with an Autobahn Automotive itemized invoice in the amount of $7, 978.74. Once more, there is conflicting testimony as to what actually occurred during this second meeting. The meeting ended without any resolution. Fearing that Whitaker or his acquaintances would obtain the vehicle without paying the debt, Garcia hid the Porsche in his neighbor's garage.

Whitaker testified that, on December 6, 2006, Garcia agreed to meet at his office by noon with the requested receipts. Whitaker additionally testified that he implored Bill Thompson, the Pulaski County Attorney, to call Garcia and advise him to bring the receipts or Whitaker's car to the County Attorney's office by noon. Garcia testified to the contrary and stated that Whitaker called him past noon demanding receipts. Subsequently, Thompson contacted Garcia and ordered him to bring the requested receipts to the County Attorney's office as soon as possible. Shortly thereafter, Garcia brought copies of the invoices from both Autobahn Automotive and Porsche of Lexington to the County Attorney's office. At that very same time, Whitaker was filing a criminal complaint against Garcia.

Later that afternoon, Pulaski District Court Judge Kathryn Wood issued a warrant for Garcia's arrest for failure to make required disposition of property, in violation of KRS 514.070. Whitaker accompanied the deputy sheriff and detective to Garcia's residence to serve the arrest warrant. The sheriff ordered Garcia to disclose the whereabouts of Whitaker's Porsche, after which Whitaker located the vehicle and regained possession. Garcia was arrested and his bond set at $10, 000. He spent the night in jail. The following day, Garcia posted bail after it was reduced to $1, 000. The Commonwealth failed to seek an indictment and, after several hearings, the charges against Garcia were dismissed.

In January of 2007, Garcia filed a mechanic's lien in the amount of $8, 028.74 plus interest. In February of 2007, Garcia brought suit against Whitaker to enforce the mechanic's lien. The complaint also claimed damages for malicious prosecution, abuse of process, false imprisonment, slander, libel, and outrageous conduct. Whitaker filed a countersuit, alleging the mechanic's lien was invalid. In March of 2009, a jury trial was conducted in the Pulaski Circuit Court. At the conclusion of the evidence, the trial court determined that Whitaker qualified for the advice of counsel defense and directed a verdict in his favor on the malicious prosecution claim. The trial court also granted Whitaker a directed verdict on the abuse of process, false imprisonment, slander, libel, and outrageous conduct claims, stating that the charges failed as a matter of law because each claim stemmed from the malicious prosecution charge. Lastly, the trial court concluded that Garcia asserted a valid mechanic's lien and allowed the jury to determine the amount owed to Garcia. Whitaker voluntarily dismissed his counterclaim. Ultimately, a Pulaski County jury awarded Garcia $8, 000 plus interest. On July 2, 2009, the trial court denied Garcia's motion for a new trial and his motion to alter, amend, or vacate the judgment.

Garcia appealed the trial court's order granting a directed verdict on both the malicious prosecution and abuse of process claims. Whitaker cross-appealed the trial court's order enforcing Garcia's mechanic's lien. The Court of Appeals found that Whitaker's cross-appeal was not preserved for review. The Court of Appeals also affirmed the trial court's orders directing verdicts on both the malicious prosecution and abuse of process claims.

With respect to the malicious prosecution claim, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court's invocation of the advice of counsel defense. In regards to the abuse of process claim, the Court of Appeals stated that Whitaker's process was normal and inside the ...


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