This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C2-00-893

 

Jeffrey David Wirrer,

Appellant,

 

vs.

 

One 1999 Chevrolet Corvette,

Vin:  1G1YY12G1X5120911,

MN License Plate #CVA348,

Respondent.

 

Filed December 19, 2000

Reversed and remanded

Randall, Judge

 

Hennepin County District Court

File No. FP 99-13773

 

 

William G. Selman III, 301 Fourth Avenue South, Suite 377, Minneapolis, MN  55415 (for appellant)

 

Judd Gushwa, Assistant Minneapolis City Attorney, 300 Metropolitan Centre, 333 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN  55402 (for respondent)

 

 

            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Foley, Judge*.


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

RANDALL, Judge

            Appellant challenges the district court's decision dismissing his demand for a judicial determination of a motor-vehicle forfeiture. Appellant argues that the district court's conclusion that he lacked standing is erroneous because he meets the definition of an owner of a motor vehicle under Minn. Stat. § 169.1217, subd. 1(e) (Supp. 1999). Appellant further contends that, even if he does not meet the statutory definition, he still has standing because the statute grants the right to pursue a judicial determination to persons other than a motor vehicle's owner.  We reverse and remand.

FACTS

            In March 1999, appellant Jeffrey David Wirrer made a down payment to lease a 1999 Chevrolet Corvette, the subject of this appeal, and took possession of it.  Wirrer arranged to insure the Corvette and named himself the sole owner-driver.  Shortly thereafter, the car dealership informed Wirrer that his lease was not approved.  As a result, in May 1999, Wirrer paid cash for the balance owed on the Corvette.  On August 3, 1999, Wirrer signed a letter to the car dealership, which was delivered by Melissa Costillo, Wirrer's girlfriend, requesting transfer of the Corvette's title to Costillo.  According to the records of the Department of Public Safety (the department), the certificate of title for the Corvette seemed to indicate the transfer to Costillo occurred on May 13, 1999, but the court explained that May 13 was most likely the date Wirrer paid the balance on the Corvette.  The certificate also indicated the fees for transferring the title to Costillo were not paid until August 23, 1999.  As of August 31, 1999, the department's records did not reflect Wirrer's requested change and still listed him as the lessee of the Corvette.  The certificate of title for the Corvette never listed Wirrer as the vehicle's owner.

            On August 19, 1999, the Minneapolis Police Department arrested Costillo for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol (DWI).  At the time, Costillo was driving the Corvette.  Because Costillo had two prior DWI convictions and license revocations since January 1995, she was served with a notice of seizure and intent to forfeit the Corvette.

            On or about August 19, 1999, the Minneapolis City Attorney's Office (the city) obtained the department's records on the vehicle to determine its owner.  The records indicated General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC) was the owner and Wirrer was the lessee.  The city contacted GMAC, and GMAC told the city that it did not have any interest in the Corvette.  The city did not contact Wirrer. 

            On September 20, 1999, Wirrer filed a demand for a judicial determination of the forfeiture.  On February 17, 2000, the city brought a motion to dismiss, alleging Wirrer lacked standing because he was not the owner of the Corvette.  The district court heard the motion on February 22, 2000.  Based on the record and stipulated facts, the court granted the city's motion to dismiss.

D E C I S I O N

             This appeal is based on an administrative vehicle forfeiture under Minn. Stat. § 169.1217, subd. 7a(b) (Supp. 1999).  Wirrer argues the district court erroneously concluded he lacked standing to pursue a demand for judicial determination of the forfeiture in two ways.  First, Wirrer asserts the court erred in determining he was not the owner of the Corvette as defined by Minn. Stat. § 169.1217, subd. 1(e) (Supp. 1999). Second, Wirrer asserts, even if he does not meet the statutory definition, he still has standing because the statute grants the right to pursue a judicial determination to persons other than a motor vehicle's owner.

I.                   Standing as an Owner

            Wirrer contends that, at the time Costillo was served with a notice of seizure and intent to forfeit the Corvette, Wirrer was the owner of the Corvette as defined by Minn. Stat. § 169.1217, subd. 1(e).  The district court concluded that Wirrer did not meet the definition of an owner, which is defined as

[t]he registered owner of the motor vehicle according to the records of the department of public safety and includes a lessee of a motor vehicle if the lease agreement has a term of 180 days or more.

 

Minn. Stat. § 169.1217, subd. 1(e).

Application of a statute to the undisputed facts of a case involves a question of law, and the district court's decision is not binding on this court.  Boubelik v. Liberty State Bank, 553 N.W.2d 393, 402 (Minn. 1996).  When a statute is unambiguous, its plain meaning should be applied.  State by Beaulieu v. RSJ, Inc., 552 N.W.2d 695, 701 (Minn. 1996).

            Here, Costillo was served a notice of seizure and intent to forfeit the Corvette on August 19, 1999.  Wirrer admitted that he signed a letter dated August 3, 1999, requesting transfer of title to Costillo and that Costillo delivered it to the car dealership.  The record does not indicate why Wirrer submitted his title-transfer request to the car dealership rather than to the department.  Also, the record does not show when Wirrer's request was submitted to the department, but the certificate of title for the Corvette indicates the fees for transferring the title were paid on August 23, 1999.  In addition, as of August 31, 1999, the department's records did not reflect Wirrer's requested change and still listed him as the lessee of the Corvette.[1]

Upon making its decision, the court declared, "I think my function in this is to read the statute the way it is written."  Because the evidence established Wirrer's intent to transfer title of the Corvette to Costillo before August 19, 1999, however, the court went on to state:

I think that we have to presume here that when a person transfers title to another individual and expresses the desire thereby to have the motor vehicle in that person's name, [the transferee] is a registered owner of a motor vehicle [and] absent * * * another written document that is capable of being filed [to the contrary,] * * * the person who transferred the vehicle to someone else no longer has any right, title or interest in the vehicle and can't bring an action for return of the forfeited vehicle.

 

Based on this reasoning, the district court concluded Wirrer was not the owner of the Corvette.

            While we make no comment on what interest in the car, if any, Wirrer has, we conclude that Wirrer has standing to argue his claim that he is the owner of the Corvette. The statutory language defining an owner of a motor vehicle is clear.  The definition includes the lessee of a vehicle, and at the time of the city's notice, on August 19, 1999, the department's records listed Wirrer as the Corvette's lessee. Although Wirrer intended to transfer the title of the Corvette to Costillo, the evidence shows such a transfer may not have taken place until August 23, 1999.

II.                Standing as Someone Other Than an Owner

            Wirrer argues he has standing to obtain judicial review even if he does not meet the statutory definition of an owner.  He contends the court's interpretation of the statute is too narrow because the statute should be read to allow persons other than the registered owner or lessee to obtain judicial review. Although Wirrer devotes a significant portion of his brief to this argument, the district court did not directly address this theory.  During the motion hearing, the district court stated that only the owner of the Corvette, as defined by Minn. Stat. § 169.1217, subd. 1(e), could pursue a demand for judicial determination of the forfeiture.  In response, Wirrer's attorney stated, "I guess we disagree with that under the statute, Your Honor.  It talks about claimant, the claimant being able to file a notice of judicial - -[.]"  The district court never addressed this statement and proceeded to dismiss Wirrer's complaint. Accordingly, we decline to address this portion of Wirrer's argument.  See Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988) (stating appellate court generally will not consider matters not argued and considered in district court).

            Reversed and remanded.



* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] Notably, on or about August 19, 1999, the city attorney's office contacted the Department of Public Safety to determine the owner of the Corvette.  The office was told that the lessor was General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC) and that the lessee was Wirrer.  Then the city attorney contacted GMAC, and GMAC told the city attorney it no longer had an interest in the vehicle.  Based on this information, the city attorney did not contact Wirrer.