The Eye of the Beholder

This comes as no shock to folks who have read previous articles, but when I was a kid, I collected lots of Star Wars toys and other merchandise, including trading cards and comics. Even less surprising, I never ‘outgrew’ those things – I still read the comics and look at the cards. And sometimes play with the toys.

Luckily for me, my parents let me keep all that junk. They had a huge attic in their garage and they graciously let me keep my stuff up there. Not all kids are as lucky as me.

Sometimes you’ll see funny bumper stickers on worn down cars saying, “I would be driving a Rolls Royce if my mom hadn’t thrown away my baseball cards,” or “this car would be a Cadillac if my parents had kept my comic books.”

I hope they don’t make a bumper sticker for David Werking.

Unfortunately, in 2016, Werking divorced his wife and moved back in with his parents, Beth and Paul Werking, in Grand Haven, Michigan. Months later, David was able to get back on his feet and moved to Muncie, Indiana. He expected his parents to send all of his belongings to his new home, which they did – but not everything.

David reached out to his parents after he noticed that a dozen boxes of pornographic films and magazines failed to arrive. When he questioned his parents about his collections’ whereabouts, his dad informed him in an email that they threw it away. “Frankly, David, I did you a big favor getting rid of all this stuff,” Paul’s email read.

When I was a kid and I would overreact to something my parents had said or done, they would typically respond, “Don’t make a federal case out of it.” Apparently, David’s parents never said that to him, because he filed a federal lawsuit against them in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in Kalamazoo.

According to his attorney, Miles Greengard, David Werking sued his parents for the “wanton destruction” of his property. Beth and Paul asked that the lawsuit be dismissed because David’s collection did not have sufficient value to meet the $75,000 threshold for damages in federal court.

Judge Paul Maloney denied their request because what he called “a trove of pornography and an array of sex toys” was valued at over $25,000 by David and Michigan’s conversion statute allows for treble damages, which put him over the threshold.

David actually hired sex scholar Dr. Victoria Hartmann, director of the Las Vegas Erotic Heritage Museum, the largest erotic museum in the world, as an expert witness to value his collection. Dr. Hartmann determined the destroyed collection’s value to be $30,441.54, despite being unable to provide a value for 107 titles on David’s list. She and David contended that much of the collection could not be replaced.

Judge Maloney granted David’s request for summary judgment and ordered his parents to pay him back the $30,441.54 plus $14,519.82 to his attorney. “Given the wide range of valuations for individual pieces and the inability of Dr. Hartmann to even estimate the value of these pieces, the Court declines to use an average value to award damages for these titles,” Maloney wrote, electing instead to honor the value set by Dr. Hartmann.

So, if your kid heads off for college this fall or moves into their own place, think twice about throwing away any of the stuff they leave behind.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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