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Atkinson Trucking & Logging, Inc. v. Blanchard Machinery Co.

United States District Court, D. Maine

September 30, 2016

ATKINSON TRUCKING & LOGGING, INC., Plaintiff
v.
BLANCHARD MACHINERY COMPANY d/b/a IRONMART, Defendant

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW [1]

          John H. Rich III United States Magistrate Judge

         In this suit over a Caterpillar 522 Feller Buncher purchased by the plaintiff from the defendant, the parties have submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law following a bench trial (ECF Nos. 37-39). I now make the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.[2] I find in favor of the defendant, with one limited exception.

         I. Findings of Fact

         1. The plaintiff, Atkinson Trucking & Logging, Inc., [3] is a corporation licensed to do business in the state of Maine. Robert Atkinson is the owner and president of the corporation. The business is primarily involved in the cutting and hauling of forestry products, and has been in business for the past 35 years. Plaintiff's Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (“Plaintiff's Proposal”) (ECF No. 37) ¶ 1; Defendant Blanchard Machinery Company's Responses to Plaintiff's Proposed Findings of Fact and Defendant's Proposed Additional Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (“Defendant's Response”) (ECF No. 38) at 1.

         2. This case involves a Caterpillar 522 Feller Buncher serial number 52200236, which the plaintiff purchased from the defendant on October 12, 2013. Id. ¶ 2.

         3. The plaintiff had previously purchased equipment from the defendant. In 2011, Robert Atkinson, on behalf of the plaintiff, and the defendant, through its employee Rob Jones, had negotiated and completed the plaintiff's purchase of a Tiger Cat Slasher. Id. ¶ 6.

         4. The plaintiff had previously owned a Caterpillar feller buncher as recently as 2010. That feller buncher had a catastrophic hydraulic failure after only approximately three weeks of use. This left the plaintiff with an outstanding debt of $25, 000 on the machine even after it became completely unusable. Id. ¶ 8.

         5. Prior to contacting the defendant about the feller buncher at issue in this action, Atkinson contacted a number of equipment sellers in Maine, including Milton CAT, in search of a feller buncher. Kurt Saunders at Milton CAT recommended the Caterpillar 521 or 522 as the suitable model for Atkinson. Blanchard's Proposed Additional Findings of Fact (“Defendant's Proposal”), included in Defendant's Response, beginning at 5, ¶ 42; Plaintiff Atkinson Trucking & Logging, Inc.['s] Reply to Defendant Blanchard Machinery Company's . . . Proposed Additional Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (“Plaintiff's Response”) (ECF No. 39) at 1.

         6. Kurt Saunders recommended the Caterpillar 521 or 522 as the suitable model for Atkinson. Id. ¶ 43. A new model 522 feller buncher costs close to half a million dollars. Id. ¶ 45.

         7. The dealers Atkinson consulted in Maine did not have a feller buncher that Atkinson was interested in buying; all the inventory available was either too new and expensive or had too many years and hours of use. Id. ¶ 46.

         8. In seeking out a feller buncher in 2012, the plaintiff was very much concerned that it not face the problems that it had encountered with the earlier Caterpillar feller buncher. Accordingly, the plaintiff, through Robert Atkinson, informed Rob Jones that the plaintiff did not want to have to do any additional work to the feller buncher that it purchased and that it wanted any feller buncher that it purchased to be ready to work in the woods. The plaintiff specifically used the term “woods ready, ” which the plaintiff explained is a term used in the industry to refer to a machine that does not require any additional repairs, maintenance, or preparation, but rather is a machine that is capable of immediately going to work in the woods without further repair or preparation. Plaintiff's Proposal ¶ 9; Defendant's Response at 1.

         9. Atkinson and Jones had approximately a half-dozen conversations prior to Atkinson's agreement to buy the machine at issue. Defendant's Proposal ¶ 49; Plaintiff's Response at 1. Atkinson declined to travel to inspect the machine before buying it. Id. ¶ 51.

         10. Jones represented that the defendant's Divisional Service/Operations Manager and Service Department Shop Superintendent “went all over the machine” and that the repairs set forth on the condition report were “all they would recommend.” Plaintiff's Proposal ¶ 13; Defendant's Response at 2, ¶ 13.

         11. Atkinson recalls that Jones sent him a written condition report on the machine prior to the purchase. Defendant's Proposal ¶ 52; Plaintiff's Response at 1. He recalled that the condition report disclosed that the main boom had a large dent near the knuckle boom and had been welded on, that the lower bunching finger cylinder was leaking, that the gathering arm lower pin weldment was cracked and broken away from the frame, and that there was oil of unknown origin visible at the back of the machine. Id. ¶ 53.

         12. The plaintiff took delivery of the feller buncher in November 2012. Plaintiff's Proposal ¶ 23; Defendant's Response at 1. The machine was one that CAT Financial had repossessed and that the defendant was selling on consignment. Defendant's Proposal ¶ 61; Plaintiff's Response at 1.

         13. Atkinson expected to put 1, 000 to 1, 200 hours per year on the machine. Id. ¶ 72. He sent the machine out to a job two hours after it was delivered. Id. ¶ 88. Atkinson expected that he would have to perform ongoing repairs and maintenance on the machine after delivery. Id. ¶ 90.

         14. Shortly after the delivery, while the feller buncher was on its first job, the feller buncher “walked out” of its tracks, meaning that the track on one side broke, making the feller buncher unusable. Soon after the machine was repaired, the opposite side of the tracks also “walked out.” As a result, the plaintiff incurred significant costs to repair the tracks and make the machine usable. Plaintiff's Proposal ¶ 25; Defendant's Response at 1.

         15. Michael Cano, service manager at Milton CAT, testified that significant wear in tracks, suggesting that they are prone or susceptible to failure, would have been obvious upon a reasonable inspection of the machine. Id. ¶ 26.

         16. Beginning in December 2012, the feller buncher began to have significant difficulties starting in cold weather. The problem was ultimately diagnosed by Milton CAT to be the result of the IQAN computer system being cold. Plaintiffs Proposal ¶ 28; Defendant's Response at 3, ¶ 28.

         17. In February 2014, the plaintiff returned the machine to Caterpillar Financial. Id. ¶ 34. CAT Financial sold it for $111, 575.27. Defendant's Proposal ¶¶ 146, 148; Plaintiffs Response at 1.

         18. The plaintiff was sued by Caterpillar Financial Services to recover a deficiency of over $10, 000.00. Plaintiffs Proposal ¶¶ 34-35; Defendant's Response ¶¶ 34-35.

         19. The hose assembly is an item of general maintenance for which the defendant is not responsible. Defendant's Proposal ¶ 92; Plaintiffs Response at 1.

         20. The sprockets on the feller buncher at issue lasted as long as they would normally be expected to last. Id. ¶ 98. When changing the sprockets, one should change the tracks themselves, and that was done in this case. Id. ¶ 99.

         21. A cold weather package is not standard equipment on a CAT 522 feller buncher. Id. ¶ 105. It is optional equipment that Milton CAT typically installs on machines that it sells in Maine. Id. ¶ 106. Milton CAT would sell a machine to a customer in Maine without that equipment, if the customer ordered the machine that way. Id. ¶ 107.

         22. Atkinson did request that the defendant replace the machine's fluids. Id. ¶ 110. In performing that service, the defendant selected fluids appropriate for the cold-weather conditions in Maine. Id. ¶ 111.

         23. In 2013, the hydraulic pump serving the hydraulic systems of the machine was found to have a crack. Plaintiffs Proposal ¶33; Defendant's Response at 8, ¶ 33. Although Milton CAT service technicians noted that the pump failure on the machine may have resulted from running too thick hydraulic oil in the winter months, Cano could not offer an opinion that that was ...


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