[Posted June 3, 2011] There were 23 cases argued in the Supreme Court’s April session, and the court has already announced decisions in four of them. The fourth comes today (as usual, by unpublished order) in Pittkin v. Loddon (U.S.) Ltd. It involves the seldom-used remedy of attachment, and explains the measure of damages when an attachment is released.


In 1996, Pittkin attached (wrongfully, it turns out) certain building materials that were being held by Loddon for the construction of stalls for horses. The materials were metal poles (for framing) and lumber (used to construct walls). They were held for eight years, and evidently were left out in the elements for a good chunk of that time.


Wood, my loyal readers, rots when it’s left out for that long. And even steel corrodes. The owner sought damages for the loss of value of its property. The trial court awarded it $83,000, representing the original amount of the attachment bond less the salvage value of the materials.


There are a couple of interesting points here. The primary issue in the trial court was Pittkin’s argument that Loddon didn’t adduce satisfactory evidence of the value of the goods. First, the trial court ruled that the fair market value of the goods at the time of the attachment was $100,000, which was the amount the attaching party (Pittkin) certified the goods were worth when he seized them. The court noted that no one had taken issue with the amount of the bond, so he felt that was a fair “starting point.” Today’s order doesn’t give us an extensive review of the evidence, but I wonder whether the owner of the materials tried to offer evidence that the value back in 1996 was higher than $100K.


The Supreme Court affirms the award of damages, noting that the measure of the owner’s recovery is the difference between the value on the date of seizure and the value on the date the attachment is released. That’s fine as far as it goes, but the owner had tried a different tack: It argued that the materials, if they had not been damaged by the weather, would actually have been worth over $300,000 on the release date. (Must have been quite a rising market for this kind of lumber in the intervening eight years.) It accordingly sought a much higher recovery in an assignment of cross-error. But the Supreme Court rejects that claim today, reaffirming the previous calculus for this kind of damage: Original value minus release-date value.


I was in court in April when this case was argued; I represented the appellant in the argument immediately following it. When I was called to the lectern, the devil within me could not be restrained, based on what I had just heard. I began my argument (after introducing myself, of course) with, “Unfortunately, I don’t have the beautiful irony of arguing a case about lumber that was decided by a judge named Wood . . . .”