WHITTINGTON v. INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY FOUNDATION (April 13, 2010)

Don Whittington and his brother Bill used to race cars. In fact, they (with a third driver) won the famous Le Mans 24-hour endurance race in 1979 driving a Porsche 935 K3 (finishing just ahead of Paul Newman). A few years later, the K3 was transferred to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation and has since been on display in the Foundation's Hall of Fame Museum. In 2004, after Whittington requested the car’s return, the Foundation sent a letter claiming ownership of the car. Whittington filed a complaint for tortious conversion and replevin. He alleged that he has always owned the Porsche and only loaned it to the Foundation. Neither party had any documentary evidence in support of its position and at least one principal witness has since died. After a one-day bench trial, the court found in favor of the Foundation. Whittington appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Bauer, Ripple, and Kanne affirmed. The Court noted that Indiana law requires a replevin plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of personal possession before any burden shifts to the defendant. Similarly, under Indiana law, a conversion plaintiff must establish a property right. The Court noted the lack of documentation and the conflicting evidence and inferences in the court below. Each party presented evidence in support of its respective position. The Court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in its conclusion that Whittington failed to establish a prima facie right of possession.