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Atkinson v. Total Computer Systems

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Citation Edit

Atkinson v. Total Computer Sys., Inc., 492 So. 2d 121 (La. 1986) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

Appellant, Charles Atkinson (“Atkinson”), sought to purchase a computer system that could handle basic accounting, word processing, inventory, billing and payroll functions in order to help facilitate his various commercial enterprises. Atkinson eventually contacted appellee, Total Computer Systems, Inc. (“Total Computer”), regarding the Eagle II Model 4 computer and Okidata 93-A printer. After speaking with a Total Computer representative, Atkinson believed that a custom computer package would be a good fit. Subsequently Atkinson ordered the computer, printer, software package, related documentation and 30-hours of training.

Upon delivery and installation of the system, Atkinson experienced numerous difficulties and malfunctions with the system. As a result of the system errors, Atkinson suffered the loss of one or two accounts each month as well as inaccurate figures on employee paychecks and inappropriately assessed finance charges. Atkinson then turned to Total Computer to find a remedy for the various ongoing issues. Total Computers spent a great deal of time assisting in the various problems Atkinson encountered. Despite the fact that the programs would run properly with Total Computer’s assistance, Atkinson was unable to keep the programs operable on his own. As a result of the system being inoperable, Atkinson filed suit for rescission of sale.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

At trial, the court declined to rescind the sale of any items purchased from Total Computer. Instead, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Atkinson in the amount of $850.00 for the reduction of the systems purchase. The court reasoned that the inability of Atkinson to operate or understand the system contributed to numerous difficulties he encountered. Although the court found that the program, training documentation and printer were defective, the fact that the computer itself was free from defects coupled with the “human error” aspect made reduction, rather than rescission, the proper remedy.

Atkinson appealed, alleging that the court erred in: 1) not rescinding the sale; 2) not finding the defendant a bad faith seller; and, 3) not granting a proper amount for reduction of the purchase.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court's ruling in part, and reversed it in part. First, the court determined that the lower court erred in not rescinding the sale of the system. The court determined that the computer system’s functionality should be considered as a whole and not as individual components. When taking the system as a whole, the court found that the system was rendered useless by defective software. Since the system was "so inconvenient and imperfect," the sale should have been rescinded. Accordingly, Atkinson was entitled to a return of the purchase price of $8358.10.

Additionally, the court found that the trial court’s reasoning regarding Total Computer acting as a good-faith seller was supported by the record. Since there was no evidence that Total Computer knew of the defects in the software or printer when it sold the items, it could not be held accountable as bad-faith seller. Therefore, the trial court's ruling was affirmed and Atkinson was not entitled to any attorney’s fees.

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