Gratuitous Bailee Did Not Convert Bailed Property.

The plaintiff was friends with the defendant's father and stored property on the father's acreage.  The plaintiff stored items on the property, including cars, an old motor home and other automotive and recreational vehicle parts.  The father died, and the executor allowed the plaintiff to continue to store his property there.  Ultimately, the defendant acquired title to the property and advised the plaintiff that he needed to remove his items from the property or buy the acreage for $50,000.  The plaintiff declined the purchase offer, and the plaintiff did not get his items removed before the winter.  In the spring of the following year (more than a year after the father died), the defendant notified the plaintiff that he owed $350 for the storage of the items ($50/month for seven months) to be paid to the defendant's lawyer within a week and that he should make arrangements to remove the items.  The storage fee wasn't paid and the items weren't removed.  Five months later, the plaintiff sued for conversion after seeing that at least some of his items were no longer on the acreage.  The defendant claimed that the plaintiff had abandoned the items, and sought damages for a reasonable storage fee and costs incurred in removing the property.  The trial court determined that the defendant removed the property in violation of Iowa Code Sec. 556B.1 for failure to give the proper notice, and entered judgment for the plaintiff of $10,800 (the value of the property less the reasonable storage fee and an adjustment for a skid loader).  On appeal, the court reversed.  The court noted that the defendant was a constructive or gratuitous bailee of the plaintiff's property and, as such, was only liable to the plaintiff if the property was lost or damaged through the defendant's gross negligence.  Here, the court noted, the defendant had stored the items for almost a year and stored them for more than six months after asking the plaintiff to remove the items, and didn't dispose of them until receiving a court order from the estate that any items on the property were property of the estate that he inherited.  Accordingly, the defendant did not illegally convert the plaintiff's property.  Theis v. Kalvelage, No. 14-1568 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 25, 2015).