The Minnesota Court of Appeals has cleared a repossession company of liability in a civil suit claiming wrongful repossession, trespass and violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The three-judge panel unanimously found insufficient evidence for trial on allegations that agents of the Minnesota Recovery Bureau forcibly broke a garage door while trying to seize a leased 1996 Chevrolet pickup.
Karen Goetze, who defaulted on her monthly payments a few months after leasing the new vehicle in May 1996, filed the suit.
In October 1996, the company's repossession agents tried to drive the truck away from Goetze's home but stopped when her boyfriend confronted them with a loaded pistol, the court said.
Goetze later sued in Hennepin County District Court, asserting that the employees forcibly entered the garage in 'a breach of the peace.'
She asked for more than $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, according to a lawyer for Minnesota Re-covery Bureau, Mark Gwin of Minneapolis.
Judge Peter Lindberg dismissed the case without trial.
The Court of Appeals upheld that decision, saying the only evidence of forced entry was testimony from Goetze and her boyfriend.
'Photographs show no visible damage to the door,' Appeals Judge Gary Crippen said, and both Goetze's landlord and his repairman signed affidavits stating 'that the door leading into the garage has never been broken or needed repair.'
As for Goetze's claim for punitive damages, the court found insufficient proof that the repossession agents 'acted with willful indifference to the rights and safety of others.'
Goetze's lawyer, Thomas Lyons Jr. of Maplewood, said that his client had reached confidential settlements with General Motors Acceptance Corp. and the dealership, Grossman Chevrolet of Burnsville.
He said no further appeal is likely.