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Indiana Court Finds That Large Crane And Saw For Stone Fabricating Business Were Not "Fixtures"

Lesson. In title and priority disputes surrounding alleged “fixtures,” the parties’ intention is the controlling factor.

Case cite. 11438 Highway 50 v. Luttrell, 81 N.E.3d 261 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017).

Legal issue. Whether certain pieces of equipment were fixtures subject to a lender’s mortgage.

Vital facts. This case dealt with a crane and a saw owned by a limestone sawing business. The business operated out of a building the partners constructed on the back edge of some real estate owned by a separate corporation. A lender held a mortgage on the real estate and also had on file a UCC financing statement claiming an interest in, among other things, equipment and fixtures of the corporation (but not the sawing business).

Procedural history. The lawsuit started when one of the two partners in the limestone sawing business sued the other partner for, among other things, possession of the crane and the saw. Later, the lender (mortgagee) intervened in the action, foreclosed on the real estate and asserted a first-priority security interest in the crane and the saw. The trial court awarded the equipment to the plaintiff (the partner), and the lender/mortgagee appealed.

Key rules. Indiana case law generally provides that “a fixture is a former chattel or piece of personal property that has become a part of real estate by reason of attachment thereto.”

Indiana’s three-part test for whether something “has become so identified with real property as to become a fixture” is “(1) actual or constructive annexation of the article to the realty, (2) adaptation to the use or purpose of that part of the realty with which it is connected and (3) the intention of the party making the annexation to make the article a permanent accession to the freehold.”

The intention factor is controlling and “may be determined by the nature of the article, relation and situation of the parties making the annexation, and the structure, use, and mode of annexation.” If there is doubt regarding intent, “the property should be regarded as personal.”

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s determination “that the crane and the saw should be regarded as the personal property of [the limestone sawing business] rather than a fixture subject to the lender’s mortgage lien.”

Policy/rationale. The equipment in Luttrell was annexed to the real estate and assembled in a building meant to accommodate it. However, the saw (14’x7’) could be disassembled in two days and transferred to a new place via semi-truck. The crane weighed 50 tons, but also could be moved if needed. The sawing business purchased the equipment, and the partners intended for it to remain their personal property after installation. Also, the sawing business and the borrower’s/mortgagor’s business were independent from one another, and the original plan of the partners was to save up money to buy the building.

Seemingly most fixture-related disputes are between creditors who are fighting over the debtor’s property. Here, the dispute was between a creditor and a third-party owner (not a borrower). The fact that the mortgagor/borrower did not own the equipment, and thus could not have pledged it as collateral, probably carried the day.

Related post. What Is A Fixture?
I represent creditors, as well as mortgage loan servicers, entangled in lien priority and title disputes. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.