Case Law

Missouri Repossession Case Law

Case Name: Browning Browning v. White Corbett
Case Location: 940 S.W. 2d 914 MO App. Ct. (1997)

This is an important case regarding “Color of Law.”  On August 12, 1992, Kevin Browning purchased a vehicle from White, with Browning’s mother as a co-signer on the loan.  Upon default, White went to the Browning residence to collect a monthly payment.  Apparently unsuccessful in collecting payment, White went to the Rolla Police Department and requested that a police officer accompany him back to the Browning residence to “keep the peace” while he repossessed the vehicle.  The officer, Corbett, drove to the Browning residence in his patrol car.  Corbett did not have a court order to take the vehicle, was in full uniform and carrying handcuffs, a revolver and a walkie-talkie on his belt.  Mrs. Browning was very upset and yelling, and apparently would have hit White if Corbett had not stepped between them.  Corbett radioed his dispatcher to send a tow truck at White’s request and a truck arrived and towed the vehicle.  When Mrs. Browning asked the officer to help keep White from taking the vehicle, Corbett said he could not do so because White had “the paper and the lien.”  Corbett admitted telling Mrs. Browning and White to calm down more than once.  White testified that Corbett tried repeatedly to calm Mrs. Browning and threatened to arrest her if she did not do so.   The court held that there was sufficient evidence from the trial court that Corbett’s involvement amounted to state action or “Color of Law.”  The Court further held that “a debtor has the right to minimal due process (i.e. notice and prior hearing) before a state may assist a secured creditor in repossessing the debtor’s property.”

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Case Law

In the case of Northside Motors of Florida, Inc. v. Brinkley, 282 So. 2nd (FL 1973), the court’s ruling states, in part, “The Supreme Court of the United States has since emphasized and re-emphasized that state action will not be found in the purely private conduct of an individual voluntary engaged in without some form of active assistance or cooperation on the part of the state.” This means that law enforcement shall not be involved in the self-help (non-judicial) repossession process unless some violation of law occurs.

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