The Rev. Daniel Lokanga prevailed in his lawsuit against Red Barn Storage and Warehouse owners Paul and Jane Barrenger.
On December 20, Franklin County Superior Court Judge Dennis Pearson ruled the company owes Lokanga $13,634 plus legal costs for removing and selling or discarding items from a full shipping container meant for a humanitarian aid in Lokanga’s native Congo.
Lokanga’s claims against Al Belval, the Barrengers’ co-defendant and previous Red Barn owner, were dismissed with prejudice, meaning they can’t be brought again.
The container included a Dodge Durango, two medical grade microscopes, 10 hospital beds, school supplies, clothes, electric generators, two chainsaws, religious items and more.
Pearson found because the Barrengers opened the container, stored at the Red Barn property in Georgia, and disposed items without notice, they violated Lokanga’s rights.
However, Pearson also ruled that because the Barrengers apparently acted out of greed rather than personal malice, Lokanga is not entitled to punitive damages.
Lokanga was awarded $10,000 for emotional harm from the couple’s “tortious conduct” and “cavalier and reckless disregard of his rights to be treated fairly and transparently.”
The priest acted stoically, which made the case more compelling, the judge wrote.
Pearson said the drive was supposed to be charitable, “which inexplicably turned bad and turned into a substantial loss, not only of the tangible property itself, but of some level of trust and confidence in one’s supposed friends and neighbors.”
Pearson’s decision included a lengthy summation of the case’s key events.
Lokanga, a Catholic priest with the Burlington Diocese, successfully shipped a container to the Congo in 2007-2008. He then purchased a container from Belval for $1,700 but never received a receipt for the sale.
Belval and Lokanga had a verbal agreement to keep the container at Red Barn, then owned by Belval, the judge found. That agreement didn’t include any rent charges.
Lokanga and his parishioners began collecting donations and raising funds in spring 2009.
In 2011, Belval sold the business to the Barrengers. Paul Barrenger testified he opened the container to satisfy the mortgage holder that there were no hazardous items inside, but no one from the bank supported the statements.
No effort was made to contact Lokanga before the container was opened.
Barrenger admitted the container was “full to the brim.” Because he didn’t have a key for the Durango, Barrenger used a tractor to pull it out, causing $130 in repairs.
Barrenger didn’t keep any inventory of the removed items or notify Lokanga so the priest could do so, according to the judge’s summation.
Barrenger then stored hay or straw in the container without Lokanga’s permission.
Some of the clothes inside were evidently taken to the used goods store that is part of the Red Barn operation, while others were either thrown away or taken to the dump; Barrenger made 40 trips, he said.
The couple also admitted to selling $254 worth items in the Red Barn store.
Lokanga and supporters visited the Red Barn site in November 2011 and found the container all but empty, with only Barrenger’s table and chairs and some loose straw.
On Dec. 27, 2011, Pearson ordered Lokanga be allowed to retrieve his property.
Some items were gone, including appliances and toilets. Others, such as the medical microscopes and computer equipment, were replaced with inferior items, the judge said.
Lokanga valued the missing items at $65,722. Pearson wrote the priest’s account was guesswork and that there’s no reliable record of container items, their value or what was taken out and sold.
Pearson found Lokanga could substantiate a claim for 325 missing pairs of shoes with a value of $10 each, the cost of the Durango repairs and the value of religious items the Barrengers acknowledge they sold. Thus, he awarded compensatory damages for $3,634.