A St. Paul company that recycled metal from stolen cars four years ago should have known that at least some of the vehicles were stolen when it bought them and converted them to scrap, a Ramsey County jury determined Monday.
Jurors also ruled the seven plaintiffs — all of whom had their cars stolen — who sued Metro Metals Corp. are entitled to compensation for their loss. The exact amounts, however, will be determined at a later date.
The plaintiffs sought more than $143,000 in damages and legal fees. Each sued for three times the value of their stolen vehicle.
In August 2011, St. Paul police and the Ramsey County attorney's office announced charges against 10 people who stole cars from city streets, private lots and driveways in order to sell them for scrap. Many were taken to Metro Metals and sold for $300 to $350 apiece and promptly crushed.
Authorities said then that although more than 50 cars had been stolen in St. Paul and sold for scrap, Metro Metals was not being investigated for criminal activity.
The civil case tried in Ramsey County District Court materialized after the seven car-theft victims united to file the lawsuit.
Attorney Michael Cain, who represented the plaintiffs, told jurors that in each case, Metro Metals failed to take basic, voluntary steps to verify a car's history and ownership. When victims called the scrap yard looking for their vehicles, Metro Metals was "evasive," he said.
But Metro Metals attorney James Smith told jurors Cain's argument was full of "factual distortion" and "falsehoods." He said the high price of scrap metal in 2011 prompted many car sales. Once Metro Metals realized what was happening, he said, it hired off-duty police to help inspect cars to determine if they had been stolen.
The recycling yard was not required by law in 2011 to obtain a car title before accepting a vehicle for scrap.