This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Ramesh Hanuman, et al.,
Filed December 7, 2004
Kanabec County District Court
File No. C7-02-73
Paul A. Sortland, Sortland Law Office, 120 South Sixth Street, Suite 1510, Minneapolis, MN 55402-1817 (for appellant)
Michael J. Weidner, Law Offices of Michael J. Weidner, 4660 Slater Road, Suite 250, Eagan, MN 55122 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge; Klaphake, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellant brought claims for conversion and unjust enrichment against respondents—his father, his sister, and his brother-in-law. He challenges the directed verdict dismissing his claims against his father and the denial of his motion for amended findings or a new trial. We affirm.
The parties to this appeal are all members of one family. Respondent Balgobin Singh (Singh) is the father of Shivsaywack Singh, of appellant Walter Singh, and of respondent Indrani Hanuman. Respondent Ramesh Hanuman is the husband of Indrani Hanuman (collectively, the Hanumans). This action arises from the parties’ use and ownership of a farm in Kanabec County.
In 1992, the farm was purchased by Shivsaywack Singh, who gave appellant permission to use it to breed cattle and to keep racehorses. At first, the purchaser named on the deed was Balgobin Singh; he transferred the farm to his daughter Indrani Hanuman in 1993.
Appellant purchased cattle, horses, and equipment, which he kept on the farm; he lived and worked on the farm four days a week and lived and worked in Minneapolis the other three days. He testified that real estate taxes on the farm were paid by Singh and Shivsaywack Singh and that, until 2000, the tax deduction on the farm had been taken by the Hanumans.
In 2000, appellant said he wanted to take the tax deduction. In March 2000, Indrani Hanuman obtained an order for protection against appellant, forbidding him to come to the farm. In May 2001, appellant went to the farm with a trailer to attempt to recover the cattle, horses, equipment, and personal property he had left there. He was not allowed to remove the cattle because he could not produce proof that he owned them and the Hanumans believed the cattle belonged to Singh. The farm buildings have been repeatedly vandalized.
In January 2002, appellant brought this action for conversion and unjust enrichment against Singh and the Hanumans, seeking $120,000, the cash value of the alleged converted items. During trial, Singh moved for a directed verdict dismissing the claims against him. Based on appellant’s testimony that Singh did not convert appellant’s property and had no interest in the farm that appellant claimed to have enriched, the district court granted the motion.
After trial, the district court found that (1) appellant and Singh jointly purchased and owned equipment worth $21,100, and appellant had a one-half interest in it worth $10,550; (2) the Hanumans retained tools belonging to appellant that had a value of $600, household goods that had a value of $5,000, horse equipment that had a value of $1,000, two cars that had a value of $200 each, and a snowmobile that had a value of $600; and (3) appellant was therefore entitled to a judgment of $18,150 against the Hanumans.
Appellant moved for a new trial on the ground that the judgment was not supported by the evidence and was contrary to law and on the ground of newly discovered evidence; he moved in the alternative for amended findings based on two pieces of evidence submitted during trial. The motion was denied. He now challenges that denial and the directed verdict.
D E C I S I O N
1. Directed Verdict
Appellant challenges the directed verdict dismissing his claims against Singh. When the district court grants a motion for directed verdict, this court determines whether the evidence and its inferences could reasonably sustain a contrary verdict. Northwestern State Bank of Luverne v. Gangestad, 289 N.W.2d 449, 453 (Minn. 1979). In granting the motion for directed verdict, the district court stated:
[Appellant] testified specifically and unequivocally that his father, [Singh], did not convert [appellant’s] animals, his livestock and did not convert his personal property. . . . [Singh] has not been a record owner of the property since 1993. . . . [E]ven if one . . . construes the evidence most favorably to [appellant], there just is no evidence of . . . Singh, having converted the livestock or the personal property. [Appellant] has testified clearly and unequivocally that he did not. . . .
[T]he [c]omplaint alleges that [appellant], basically contributed work and monetary investment all to the benefit and improvement of the real property. . . . There has been no evidence during the course of [appellant’s] presentation of his case in chief, that . . . Singh has any legal or equitable interest in the real property. . . . And since there is no evidence that [Singh] has any legal or equitable interest in the real property, the Court cannot conclude that . . . Singh would benefit monetarily from any of the work done by [appellant] or any investment made by [appellant]. . . . [In] unjust enrichment, there must be a showing of some financial benefit to the particular Defendant. This particular Defendant has had no interest, legal interest in the property since 1993.
The evidence provided by appellant’s own testimony could not reasonably sustain a contrary verdict. Appellant’s cross-examination on the first day of trial included this exchange:
Q. Well, let me ask you about . . . Singh first. How did he convert your animals?
A. He didn’t.
Q. So, okay. As to . . . Singh on your personal property, how did . . . Singh convert your personal property?
A. He didn’t.
On the second day, appellant was again cross-examined:
Q. Yesterday you said that your father had not converted any of the animals?
A. No, I don’t believe so, I believe that Ramesh Hanuman and Indrani converted these things.
Q. So, so it’s Ramesh Hanuman, and Indrani Hanuman, who you believe have taken your cows from you?
A. Yes, when I met him [Ramesh Hanuman] at the gate I asked him for my cows and he said no, that I wasn’t getting anything. I didn’t ask my father [Balgobin Singh], maybe if I asked my father he would have given me something.
The only finding to be derived from appellant’s testimony was that inferred by the district court: appellant had no claims against Singh.
now argues that he did not know what the word “conversion” meant and that, in
accepting his testimony, the district court erroneously permitted a layperson
to testify to a legal conclusion. But
appellant’s testimony on the second day demonstrates
that appellant understood what conversion was and thought his property had been converted by the Hanumans, not by Singh.
Appellant relies on Yliniemi v. Mausolf, 371 N.W.2d 218 (Minn. App. 1985) to argue that allowing lay witnesses to present legal opinions requires reversal. But Yliniemi is distinguishable; it set aside a finding based on testimony offered over objection because allowing the testimony was opinion that “concerned legal conclusions [and was] totally lacking in foundation.” Id. at 223. Here, no one objected to appellant’s being asked if his father had converted his property or to his answer that his father had not.
Finally, a party may not “obtain review by raising the same general issue litigated below but under a different theory.” Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988). Appellant indicated to the district court that he understood the term “conversion” both by making a claim for it in his complaint and by using it at trial. He cannot now successfully argue that he did not know the meaning of the term.
2. Finding of Fact
This court will reverse a district court’s findings of fact only when those findings are clearly erroneous, i.e., not reasonably supported by the evidence. Fletcher v. St. Paul Pioneer Press, 589 N.W.2d 96, 102 (Minn. 1999) (citing Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01). Appellant challenges the district court’s finding that the Hanumans did not convert his cattle either by withholding possession or by selling the cattle.
The district court found that testimony conflicted as to who purchased the cattle, who paid for their feed, who owned the cattle business, or how many cattle were on the premises when appellant was served with the restraining order. It also found that most of the cattle had been sold since appellant left the farm, that the checks for cattle sales are endorsed to Singh, and that the Hanumans claimed feed for the cattle on their income taxes for 1997 and 1999 to 2001. Appellant testified that he sold cattle on three occasions prior to receiving the restraining order for which he received $4,800, $15,000 or $16,000, and $17,000 or $18,000.
The district court concluded that the Hanumans were justified in refusing to deliver the cattle when appellant demanded them because appellant had not proved that he owned the cattle that remained on the farm. “Among the conditions upon which a bailee may reasonably qualify his refusal to deliver property is that the owner first prove his title or right to possession.” McKinley v. Flaherty, 390 N.W.2d 30, 32 (Minn. App. 1986). Appellant did not prove his title to the remaining cattle, and the Hanumans testified that they thought Singh owned the cattle. The district court’s finding that appellant did not prove his ownership of the cattle he alleged were converted is reasonably supported by the evidence.
3. Damage Award
An appellate court will set aside a damage award only if it is “manifestly and palpably contrary to the evidence.” Levienn v. Metro. Transit Comm’n, 297 N.W.2d 272, 273 (Minn. 1980). Appellant contends that the farm equipment in which he had a half interest was worth $38,000, not $21,100. The district court based its figure on “what [appellant] purchased the items for and [the Hanumans’] appraisal of their market value in 2002.” The prices appellant claimed to have paid for items of farm equipment, the 2002 appraised values according to the Hanumans’ expert, and the values given by the district court are:
Item Purchase price Expert District court
180 M-F Tractor $ 3,600 $2,500 $3,000
1974 Tractor $ 8,208 $3,250 $5,800
1219 Haybine $ 3,400 $1,200 $2,300
1500 Round Baler $ 4,875 $1,500 $3,200
M-F # 12 Baler $ 650 $ 125 $ 400
Frg. King Spreader $ 4,800 $ 150 $2,400
32’ Elevator $ 316 $ 75 $ 200
22’ Elevator $ 400 $ 75 $ 250
5 Ton Flat Rack $ 350 $ 50 $ 200
8 Ton Flat Rack $ 1,000 $ 150 $ 575
5 Ton Flat Rack $ 1,200 $ 100 $ 650
10 Bale Feeders $ 3,000 ------- $1,500
2 Gas Tanks $ 700 ------- $ 350
Bale Fork $ 350 ------- $ 175
Misc. Tools $10,000 ------ --------
Totals: $42,849 $ 9,175 $21,100
For the 11 items appraised by the expert, the district court found a rough average of the expert’s valuation and appellant’s claimed purchase price. The district court gave three of the unappraised items half the value that appellant said he had paid for them and declined to award any of the $10,000 that appellant claimed to have spent for miscellaneous tools. The damage award is not “manifestly and palpably contrary to the evidence.”
The evidence supports the directed verdict, the conclusion that appellant could not successfully claim conversion of his cattle, and the damage award for the farm equipment.
 Appellant did not challenge the directed verdict in his posttrial motions.
The transcript shows that district court was well aware of appellant’s difficulty with the terminology. During his cross-examination, when asked about Singh’s interest in the farm, appellant testified that Singh “owns the farm, but . . . didn’t have no interest.” The court pointed out to respondents’ attorney, “[T]he two of you aren’t communicating when you use the legal term ‘interest.’ . . . I think you mean ownership and the witness means are you interested in what goes on.”
 Appellant could prove the purchase prices of only five items by cancelled checks.
 The district court found that Singh had received the proceeds from the sale of some of the equipment, but since the district court found that appellant and Singh each had a 50% interest in the equipment and appellant testified that Singh had not converted any of appellant’s property, the sale was disregarded. In any event, Singh sold for $5,750 four items that appellant claimed were purchased for $20,083 and that the district court valued at $14,300.