This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).







Robert Scott Kaiser,





One BMW 325i Coupe,

MN License Plate No. 311 LGR,

VIN WBAAA1302H2326348,



City of Lino Lakes,



Filed September 11, 2001


Schumacher, Judge


Anoka County District Court

File No. C5008322



Brian M. Marsden, Marsden Limited, 34 North Wheeler Street, Suite 200, St. Paul, MN 55104-6068 (for respondent)


Barry A. Sullivan, William G. Hawkins and Associates, 2140 Fourth Avenue North, Anoka, MN 55303 (for appellant)


Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Parker, Judge.*



In a motor vehicle forfeiture action, the City of Lino Lakes appeals the district court's determination that the seized vehicle was owned by respondent Robert Scott Kaiser. Because strict construction of Minn. Stat. 169.1217 (1998 & Supp. 1999) compels this conclusion, we affirm.


In the spring of 2000, Kaiser sold his 1987 BMW 325i Coupe to his friend, Daniel Richard Milota, for $5,000. Milota paid Kaiser $1,500 as a down payment. The parties agreed that Milota would take immediate possession and would be responsible for insuring, repairing, and maintaining the vehicle. Kaiser retained the certificate of title, and the title would pass to Milota upon payment of the remaining balance of $3,500. If Milota failed to pay the balance within one year, Kaiser would regain possession of the vehicle.

Milota insured, repaired, and maintained the vehicle until September 17, 2000. On that date he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in the city of Lino Lakes. At the time, Milota was driving the BMW. The arresting officer determined that, according to the records of the Department of Public Safety, Kaiser was the registered owner of the BMW. At the time of his arrest, however, Milota claimed ownership of the vehicle.

Because Milota had two prior impaired driving convictions since 1995, the state seized the BMW and began forfeiture proceedings under Minn. Stat. 169.1217 (1998 & Supp. 1999).[1] Subsequently, Milota pleaded guilty to gross misdemeanor driving under the influence.

Pursuant to the statute's procedure for judicial determination of forfeiture, Kaiser filed a complaint asserting that he was the owner of the subject BMW and that his vehicle was improperly seized. After a hearing on the complaint, the district court determined that the vehicle was not subject to forfeiture because Kaiser, as the registered titleholder of the vehicle, was the owner of the BMW, not Milota. The court found that Kaiser was not privy to the commission of Milota's offense and ordered the return of his vehicle. Lino Lakes appeals.


Statutory construction is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Hibbing Educ. Ass'n v. Public Employment Relations Bd., 369 N.W.2d 527, 529 (Minn. 1985). The goal of all interpretation and construction of statutory language is to "ascertain and effectuate the intention of the legislature." Minn. Stat. 645.16 (2000). If the words of the statute are "clear and free from all ambiguity," further construction is neither necessary nor permitted. Id. It is a fundamental rule of statutory construction that words and phrases are to be construed according to their plain meaning. See id.; Kirkwold Constr. Co. v. M.G.A. Constr., Inc., 513 N.W.2d 241, 244 (Minn. 1994).

The forfeiture statute permits forfeiture for certain designated offenses. Minn. Stat. 169.1217, subds. 6-7 (1998 & Supp. 1999); see Minn. Stat. 169.1217. subd. 1(c) (Supp. 1999) (listing violations constituting designated offenses). The parties stipulated that Milota committed a designated offense. The ownership of the BMW under the forfeiture statute is the sole issue before the court.

When an individual other than the owner commits a designated offense, a vehicle is subject to forfeiture "only if its owner knew or should have known of the unlawful use or intended use." Id., subd. 7(d) (Supp. 1999). Under the relevant statute, the term "[o]wner means the registered owner of the motor vehicle according to records of the department of public safety * * *." Minn. Stat. 169.1217, subd. 1(e) (Supp. 1999). In this case, Lino Lakes admits that Kaiser is the registered owner of the vehicle and does not allege that Kaiser knew, or should of known, of the vehicle's illegal use. Accordingly, as the district court concluded, the forfeiture must fail under the plain language of the statute.

Nevertheless, Lino Lakes argues that the registered owner is only the presumptive owner, relying on Rife v. One 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier, 485 N.W.2d 318, 321 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. June 30, 1992). But, as this court recently explained, Rife is inapplicable to forfeiture under Minn. Stat. 169.1217 as it involved a different statute under which the registered owner is merely the "alleged owner." See City of New Brighton v. 2000 Ford Excursion, 622 N.W.2d 364, 372-73 (Minn. App. 2001) (distinguishing statute in Rife from Minn. Stat. 169.1217), review denied (Minn. Apr. 17, 2001).

Strict construction of Minn. Stat. 169.1217 compels the conclusion that Kaiser is the owner of the BMW. The plain language of Minn. Stat. 169.1217, subd. 1(e) defines owner as the "registered owner of the motor vehicle according to records of the department of public safety." Kaiser meets that definition.


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

[1] Recodified as amended at Minn. Stat. 169A.63 (2000), effective January 1, 2001, for crimes committed and conduct occurring on or after that date. 2000 Minn. Laws ch. 466, 3, 4; ch. 478, art. 1, 37; ch. 478, art. 2, 8(a), 9(b); ch. 495, 46.