STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Myron Weege, Jr., as parent and natural guardian
of Myron Weege, III, and Brianna Weege,
Filed October 7, 2003
Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded
Fillmore County District Court
File No. C902124
R. Stephen Tillitt, Sara N. Wilson, Gislason & Hunter, L.L.P., 9900 Bren Road East, Suite 215E, P.O. Box 5297, Minnetonka, MN 55343-2297 (for appellant)
Richard C. Scattergood, Rider Bennett, L.L.P., 333 South Seventh Street, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent Heath)
Daniel J. Heuel, O’Brien & Wolf, L.L.P., P. O. Box 968, Rochester, MN 55903-0968 (for respondents Ojeda-Napoles)
William J. Schmitz, Sieben, Grose, Von Holtum & Carey, Ltd., 900 Midwest Plaza East, 800 Marquette Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent Tuckee)
J.D. Haas, 2840 West River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent Weege)
Considered and decided by Harten , Presiding Judge; Anderson, Judge; and Wright, Judge.
Extrinsic evidence may be introduced to rebut the presumption of vehicle ownership that is established by the certificate of title only to avoid vicarious liability or to avoid responsibility under the no-fault act.
G. BARRY ANDERSON, Judge
On May 13, 2000, the vehicle driven by Mark Heath (Heath), borrowed from Alisha Dennis (Dennis), struck the vehicle occupied by Pablo and Maria Ojeda-Napoles (the Ojeda-Napoles). In April 2001, the Ojeda-Napoles commenced a personal injury suit against Heath and Dennis.
Because Heath did not have an insurance policy issued in his own name, one of the insurance coverage matters addressed after the accident was a dispute as to whether an insurance policy Owners issued to Ione Forstrom, Heath’s grandmother with whom he lived, provided coverage for Heath’s accident. Forstrom’s policy provided insurance for her own automobile, and also provided coverage for other automobiles:
1. LIABILITY COVERAGE – BODILY INJURY AND PROPERTY DAMAGE
a. The Liability Coverage provided for your automobile also applies to an automobile not:
(1) owned by or furnished or available for regular use to you or anyone living with you . . .
* * * *
b. We extend this coverage only:
(1) to you;
(2) to relatives who do not own an automobile[.]
Thus, the policy’s coverage applied to automobiles driven by Forstrom’s relatives who lived in her household and did not own an automobile. In deposition testimony, Heath stated that he “had” a 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass, but that he did not own it because the vehicle was “in [his] father’s name.” According to Heath, he was in the process of purchasing the vehicle from his parents and was making payments to them. The vehicle was inoperable on the date of the accident, because a head gasket needed repair. Heath also stated that a 1991 GMC Jimmy registered in his name was totaled prior to his May 2000 accident with the Ojeda-Napoles. The district court record contains a printout dated April 9, 2002 entitled “motor vehicle record display” that refers to a 1991 GMC, and contains language stating “OWNER: HEATH MARK ANTHONY.”
On March 12, 2002, the Ojeda-Napoles moved for summary judgment, arguing that because it was inoperable at the time of the accident, the Cutlass did not constitute an automobile for purposes of Forstrom’s policy, and therefore Heath was covered by Owners. On April 29, 2002, Owners began a declaratory judgment action, alleging that Owners was not liable for Heath’s accident because Heath was not living with Forstrom at the time of the accident and because he was the registered owner of a motor vehicle.
I. Did the district court err in concluding that Heath did not own a 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass for purposes of determining insurance coverage?
II. Did the district court err in concluding that, based on the record before the court, Heath did not own a 1991 GMC Jimmy at the time of the accident?
When reviewing an appeal from an order for summary judgment, this court asks two questions: “(1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the lower courts erred in their application of the law.” State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990) (citation omitted). “On appeal, the reviewing court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was granted.” Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993) (citation omitted).
Owners argues that the district court erred in concluding that Heath did not own a motor vehicle for purposes of interpreting Forstrom’s insurance policy with Owners. Interpretation of statutory law and the language of insurance agreements are both legal issues subject to a de novo standard of review. Dohney v. Allstate Ins. Co.,632 N.W.2d 598, 600 (Minn. 2001).
To determine if the present dispute falls into one of the categories where extrinsic evidence is permitted, we must examine Solum and the cases upon which it relies. Paul Solum was involved in an accident while driving an uninsured vehicle registered in the name of his wife, Helen. Solum, 641 N.W.2d at 893-94. Title to the vehicle had been transferred to Helen from her son, Daniel, who was attempting to avoid seizure of his vehicle as a result of alcohol-related driving offenses. Id. The Solums testified that the transfer to Helen was a formality and that they considered Daniel the owner of the vehicle. Id. If Daniel Solum owned the vehicle, American was obligated to pay the claim, but if Helen Solum owned it, American was not obligated to cover the accident. Id. at 893 & n.1. American National General Insurance Company (American) sought a declaratory judgment, asserting that because the vehicle was registered to Helen Solum, American was not obligated to pay the claim under the provisions of the Solums’ policy with American. Id. at 893. The supreme court ruled that the Solums were precluded from disputing the validity of the title they perfected, because the Solums intended Helen’s name to be on the title. Id. at 899-900.
The Solum court based its decision on precedent that permitted extrinsic evidence in only two limited circumstances. First, “where a transferor who had not complied with the transfer provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act was attempting to avoid vicarious liability,” extrinsic evidence was permitted to rebut the presumption of ownership. Id. at 897; see also Welle v. Prozinski, 258 N.W.2d 912 (Minn. 1977). Second, extrinsic evidence is admissible to rebut a liability claim under the compulsory insurance provisions of Minn. Stat. § 65B.48, the Minnesota No-Fault Act. Solum, 641 N.W.2d at 898; see also Arneson v. Integrity Mut. Ins. Co., 344 N.W.2d 617 (Minn. 1984).
Thus, the Solum court specifically and clearly noted that there are only two situations where it is permissible to introduce extrinsic evidence to rebut the presumption of ownership: “[F]or purposes of vicarious liability under the Motor Vehicle Act and liability under the No Fault Act.” Solum, 641 N.W.2d at 898 (citation omitted).
This case does not fall within either of the exceptions discussed in Solum. Here, there is no attempt to avoid vicarious liability, and there are no claims involving the no-fault act. Rather, Owners is alleging that it has no obligation under the terms of its policy with Forstrom to provide coverage for Heath’s accident. Solum clearly limits the use of extrinsic evidence and the circumstances outlined in Solum where intrinsic evidence is permitted are not present here. The district court did not err in refusing to consider extrinsic evidence in determining that, as a matter of law, Heath did not own the Cutlass.
Because we conclude that the presumption of ownership may not be rebutted in this case, we need not reach Owners’ argument that the June 2002 order should remain in effect. We also need not reach the Ojeda-Napoles’ argument that the Cutlass does not constitute a motor vehicle under the no-fault act.
Owners also argues that Heath owned a GMC Jimmy, and therefore, was not covered under Forstrom’s policy. The district court stated that it “[did] not have adequate information as to whether or not title to the 1991 [GMC Jimmy] was still registered in Mr. Heath’s name after it was totaled. The Court therefore [could not] conclude that Mark Heath owned the 1991 [GMC Jimmy] at the time of the accident.” Owners maintains that because the evidence shows that the GMC Jimmy was registered in Heath’s name, conclusive ownership of a vehicle has been demonstrated, and thus Owners is entitled to a reversal of the district court’s summary judgment order. The Ojeda-Napoles argue that the district court appropriately refused to accept the evidence presented as indisputable proof of ownership. In the alternative, they argue that because the GMC Jimmy was totaled prior to the accident, it was no longer a “motor vehicle.”
A genuine issue for trial must be established by substantial evidence. DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 69-70 (Minn. 1997). “[S]ummary judgment is inappropriate when reasonable persons might draw different conclusions from the evidence presented.” Id. at 69 (citing Illinois Farmers Ins. Co. v. Tapemark Co., 273 N.W.2d 630, 634 (Minn. 1978)).
Forstrom’s policy states that “[a]utomobile means a private passenger automobile, a truck, truck tractor, trailer, farm implement or other land motor vehicle.”
As defined by the no-fault act,
‘Motor vehicle’ means every vehicle, other than a motorcycle or other vehicle with fewer than four wheels, which (a) is required to be registered pursuant to chapter 168, and (b) is designed to be self-propelled by an engine or motor for use primarily upon public roads, highways or streets in the transportation of persons or property, and includes a trailer with one or more wheels, when the trailer is connected to or being towed by a motor vehicle.
 See Wagner v. Schwegmann’s South Town Liquor, Inc., 485 N.W.2d 730, 733 (Minn. App. 1992).