This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
2002 Chevrolet Silverado,
VIN # 1GCEK 19T322276318, MN Plate JKG611,
Filed November 30, 2004
Robert H. Schumacher, Judge
Michael A. Welch, Hebert, Welch & Humphreys, P.A., 20 North Lake Street, Suite 301, Forest Lake, MN 55025 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge; Minge, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
ROBERT H. SCHUMACHER, Judge
Appellant Fred's Tire Co. Inc. challenges the judgment ordering the forfeiture of respondent 2002 Chevrolet Silverado, VIN # 1GCEK 19T322276318, MN Plate JKG611, to Washington County under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 (2002). Fred's Tire argues the district court misinterpreted the forfeiture statute and also erroneously found that Fred's Tire knew or should have known of the illegal use of its vehicle. We affirm.
Shortly after midnight on May 27, 2003, Frank Macalus (Macalus) was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. He later pleaded guilty to the offense. This was his fourth alcohol-related driving offense. At the time of his current arrest, he was driving a 2002 Chevrolet Silverado owned by Fred's Tire. Following the arrest, Washington County authorities seized the vehicle because Macalus's conviction was a "designated offense" under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 (2002).
Fred's Tire filed a petition in district court seeking return of the vehicle, claiming it was an innocent owner pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7(d). At a hearing on the petition, Fred Macalus, Sr. testified that Fred's Tire is a family owned and operated business with four locations in the metro area, that he is the sole owner, and that he is not actively involved in day-to-day operation, "letting the family run it." He also testified that each of the company's four stores is managed by one of his five children or their spouses; Macalus and his brother Tommy Macalus share the management duties of the store located in Forest Lake.
Frank Macalus testified that on May 26, 2003, he went to the store and picked up the 2002 Silverado and drove it away. He did not ask his father for permission to use the company vehicle. He testified that, based on the company's policy instituted in February 2002, he did not have a right to take the 2002 Silverado for his personal use. He further testified that under this new company policy company trucks were "not to be driven for personal use" but store managers were allowed to drive the truck home if the manager was "working with some delivering or something to do with business, where it works out best."
At the hearing Fred's Tire stipulated that statements from Macalus's neighbors contained in a police report were accurate and the report was admitted into evidence. The report stated that a neighbor across the street recognized a picture of the 2002 Silverado "as the vehicle that Macalus drove on a regular daily basis." Another neighbor stated that he recognized the picture as the truck Macalus had driven for the last year and that Macalus "drove the vehicle on a daily basis."
Washington County presented evidence showing that approximately 24,400 miles were put on the 2002 Silverado in one year. Macalus testified that other than an occasional use by his girlfriend while she still worked for Fred's Tire, he was the only employee at the Forest Lake store who drove the vehicle. He also testified that Fred Macalus, Sr. took the vehicle approximately once a month to haul his boat or supplies to the family's cabin in Wisconsin. Fred Macalus, Sr. testified he also took the truck "a couple times" but did not know how many miles he had driven it.
Macalus was also questioned about his alcohol use and prior driving under the influence convictions. He testified that he was driving company trucks at the time of both his 1999 conviction and his 1993 conviction. Further, as a result of his 1999 DWI conviction, the state impounded the license plates of the company truck he was driving and his driving privileges were suspended for 90 days. He testified that the company "applied [to the state] through the office and got new plates."
The district court found that Macalus has a significant history of drunk driving and alcohol-related offenses, that Fred Macalus, Sr.—the sole owner of Fred's Tire—was aware of his son's prior drunk driving and knew or should have known he was using the 2002 Silverado for his personal use, that the license plates of a company truck had been impounded in 1999 because Macalus was driving the truck while he was under the influence of alcohol, and that Fred's Tire "acquiesc[ed] in Frank Macalus's personal use of the company owned truck." The court also found that the "knowledge of the corporation is not limited to the actual knowledge of its sole owner and president, but the corporation also has the constructive knowledge of its authorized agent," that Macalus, as a co-manager, was authorized to use the 2002 Silverado, and that Macalus himself knew of his intended use of the vehicle. Based on these findings the district court ordered the 2002 Silverado forfeited to the Washington County Sheriff's Department under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63.
Statutory construction is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Brookfield Trade Ctr., Inc. v. County of Ramsey, 584 N.W.2d 390, 393 (Minn. 1998). When reviewing a district court's findings of fact, this court may not set such findings aside unless they are clearly erroneous. Rife v. One 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier, 485 N.W.2d 318, 321 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. June 30, 1992). If the underlying findings of fact made by the district court are undisputed or sustainable, the district court's "ultimate" findings must be affirmed because of the absence of a demonstrated abuse of discretion. Maxfield v. Maxfield, 452 N.W.2d 219, 221 (Minn. 1990).
1. Under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 6, "A motor vehicle is subject to forfeiture . . . if it was used in the commission of a designated offense or was used in conduct resulting in a designated license revocation." The parties stipulated that Macalus used the 2002 Silverado in the commission of a designated offense. Because Fred's Tire was the owner of the 2002 Silverado, the vehicle is only subject to forfeiture "if its owner knew or should have known of the unlawful use or intended use." Id., subd. 7(d). Fred's Tire argues that "unlawful use" in subdivision 7(d) must refer to the "designated offense" in subdivision 6 and thus, the record must show that it knew of or should have known of Macalus's prior DWI convictions.
Courts interpret statutes to ascertain and effectuate legislative intent. Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (1998); see also Klein Bancorporation, Inc. v. Commissioner of Revenue, 581 N.W.2d 863, 866 (Minn. App. 1998) (noting that "[w]e presume plain and unambiguous statutory language manifests legislative intent"), review denied (Minn. Sept. 22, 1998). When a statute is free of ambiguity, we look only at its plain language. Tuma v. Comm'r of Econ. Sec., 386 N.W.2d 702, 706 (Minn. 1986).
The plain meaning of the phrase "unlawful use" is use prohibited by law. Black’s Law Dictionary 1536, 1540 (7th ed. 1999) (defining unlawful as "not authorized by law; illegal" and "use" as "the application or employment of something"). The plain meaning of the phrase "intended use" is use that is deliberate or intentional. American Heritage College Dictionary 721 (4th ed. 2002) (defining intended as "deliberate or intentional"). We conclude the language of subdivision 7(d) is unambiguous and it is sufficient that Fred's Tire knew or should have known that Macalus would intentionally drive the company vehicle for personal use or that he would use the vehicle while he was impaired in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.20.
2. Fred's Tire also argues the record does not support a finding that he knew or should have know of the unlawful use, suggesting that the district court findings ignore "the strong evidence showing that it was not reasonable for Fred Macalus, Sr. to expect that the [2002 Silverado] would be used in the commission of a designated offense." Although Fred's Tire argues it had no knowledge of Macalus's "unlawful use," Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7(d) provides a vehicle is subject to forfeiture "if its owner knew or should have known of the unlawful use or intended use." Our determination is limited to deciding whether the district court's ultimate finding that Fred's Tire knew or should have known of Macalus's unlawful use or intended use was an abuse of discretion because the court's findings were clearly erroneous. See Maxfield, 452 N.W.2d at 221; Rife, 485 N.W.2d 318, 321.
The district court found that Macalus had a significant history of drunk driving and alcohol-related offenses, that Fred Macalus, Sr., the sole owner of Fred's Tire, was aware of his son's alcohol-related driving offenses, that the license plates of a company truck had been impounded in 1999 because Macalus was driving the truck while he was under the influence of alcohol, and that Fred's Tire "acquiesc[ed] in Macalus's personal use of the company owned truck."
These findings are supported by the record. Macalus testified that he was driving a company vehicle during his prior DWI offenses, that the license plates had been impounded, and that new license plates were obtained "through the office." Macalus's neighbors provided statements that he used the 2002 Silverado daily. Washington County also produced multiple personal items that were found in the 2002 Silverado. Further, neither Macalus nor Fred Macalus, Sr. adequately accounted for the 24,400 miles that had been put on the truck in the year since its purchase. The district court's findings of fact are not clearly erroneous and therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in its ultimate finding that Fred's Tire knew or should have known of Macalus's unlawful use or intended use. See Maxfield, 452 N.W.2d at 221.
Although a finding that Fred Macalus, Sr., as the sole owner of Fred's Tire, knew or should have known of Macalus's unlawful use or intended use is sufficient to defeat the "innocent owner" defense under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7(d), we also conclude that the district court correctly determined that Macaulus's knowledge, as an authorized agent of the corporation, could be imputed to Fred's Tire. In making this determination, the district court found that Macalus—as a co-manager— was authorized to use the 2002 Silverado, and that Macalus knew of his intended and unlawful use of the vehicle.
Fred's Tire argues that it was impermissible to impute any knowledge Macalus had of his own actions to the corporation because he is not an officer of the corporation. Macalus testified that under the company policy, store managers are authorized to use the company vehicle. Use of the company vehicle was within the scope of Macalus's authority and therefore his knowledge regarding his use of that vehicle is imputable to the corporation. Kay v. Peter Motor Co., Inc., 483 N.W.2d 481, 485 (Minn. App. 1992) (stating knowledge of corporate officer "as both employee and officer was properly imputed to the corporation by the trial court" (emphasis added)).
Further, because Fred's Tire acquiesced in the personal use of the company vehicle or would have learned of Macalus's use of the vehicle if it had exercised proper care, the corporation is chargeable for his acts. See McGee v. Breezy Point Estates, 283 Minn. 10, 22, 166 N.W.2d 81, 89 (Minn. 1969) (stating "scope of apparent authority is determined not only by what the principal knows and acquiesces in, but also by what the principal should, in the exercise of ordinary care and prudence, know his agent is doing").
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.