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Unimex Logistics, LLC v. Tim Neff Towing, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont

May 24, 2018

UNIMEX LOGISTICS, LLC AND MARGO LOGISTICS LP, Appellants
v.
TIM NEFF TOWING, INC. D/B/A TNT WRECKER SERVICE, Appellee

          Submitted on February 8, 2018

          On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 1 Jefferson County, Texas Trial Cause No. 125195

          Before Kreger, Horton and Johnson, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HOLLIS HORTON Justice

         In this appeal, Unimex Logistics, LLC seeks to overturn a judgment holding it liable for the remaining balance owed to Tim Neff Towing, Inc. for the services it provided to clean up a spill, which resulted from an accident involving an eighteen-wheeler, and to tow and then store the eighteen-wheeler that was involved in the accident to its yard.[1] In its appeal, Unimex argues that the evidence fails to justify the trial court's decision holding it liable to Neff Towing for the services it provided following the spill.[2]

         We hold that the evidence admitted during the trial authorized the trial court to hold Unimex liable in quantum meruit for the balance Neff Towing was owed for the services it provided to the equipment and cargo involved in the spill. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         In July 2013, an eighteen-wheeler operated by Unimex overturned while on the westbound side of Interstate Highway 10. At the time of the incident, Unimex was operating the eighteen-wheeler to transport a cargo of brake calipers. The tractor being used to deliver the cargo of calipers was leased to Unimex by Margo Logistics. The Unimex/Margo Logistics lease provides: "The [tractor] shall be for [Unimex's] exclusive possession, control, and use for the duration of this Agreement." Under the lease, Unimex was the entity that was responsible for all of the equipment that Neff Towing towed to its yard. During the trial, and in the appeal, Unimex has not disputed that it owned the trailer involved in the spill.

         After Neff Towing cleaned up the spill, it towed the eighteen-wheeler to its yard. Two weeks later, Neff Towing sent Unimex information indicating that charges had been incurred and were being incurred for its services. The information Unimex received from Neff Towing informed Unimex that the eighteen-wheeler was incurring charges on a daily basis, and that it would continue to do so until the rig was released from Neff Towing's yard.

         In 2016, the dispute concerning Neff Towing's bills for the services it provided after the spill was tried to the bench. During the trial, the evidence established that Unimex was the designated carrier under the Department of Transportation regulations that apply to a carrier for hire for the trip that ended in the spill. The evidence also established that following the spill, Neff Towing towed the eighteen-wheeler to its yard without Unimex's consent based on the directions of a police officer, who authorized Neff Towing to remove the eighteen-wheeler from the highway.

         During trial, Unimex argued that it was not responsible for Neff Towing's charges because it did not own the tractor or the cargo involved in the spill. Unimex also claimed that it was not responsible for the charges that Neff Towing assessed following the spill.

         Unimex called its operations manager during the trial. He testified that while Unimex owned the trailer involved in the incident, Margo Logistics owned the tractor. Witnesses called by Neff Towing established that following the spill, Neff Towing helped clean up the site and then towed the rig to its yard. The evidence established the rig was still being stored at Neff Towing's yard when the trial occurred. Although Unimex argued that it paid part of Neff Towing's charges following the spill, it argued that Margo Logistics and the owner of the cargo were the entities that were responsible for the remaining balance owed to Neff Towing for its services following the spill.[3]

         Approximately three weeks after the trial, the trial court signed a judgment awarding Neff Towing $21, 332 in damages, together with additional awards for prejudgment interest and attorney's fees. In the judgment, the trial court made Margo Logistics and Unimex jointly and severally liable for the amounts the trial court awarded to Neff Towing. The judgment also requires Margo Logistics to indemnify Unimex from the charges Neff Towing assessed following the spill, and the awards include additional awards for the attorney's fees.

         Within the period required by Rule 296, Unimex asked the trial court to reduce its findings and conclusions to writing. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 296 (Requests for Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law). Thereafter, the trial court issued its written findings and conclusions. The findings the trial court made that are particularly relevant to our discussion of the issues Unimex raises in its brief are summarized below:

• The services provided by Neff Towing were provided for the benefit of both Unimex and Margo Logistics;
• Neff Towing's charges for its services, $32, 719, were reasonable and necessary, and were applied to both the tractor and trailer without separating the charges between the components of the rig because nothing required Neff Towing to separate the amounts it charged between Margo Logistics and Unimex;
• Both Unimex and Margo Logistics were provided with written notice advising them that Neff Towing expected to be compensated for the services it provided and was providing to the rig;
• Based upon customary practices in the trucking industry, both Unimex and Margo Logistics knew that Neff Towing expected to be compensated for the ...

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