This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Karen Michelle Elbaghdadi,
1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse,
Filed August 22, 2006
St. Louis County District Court
File No. 69-C9-05-300104
Wesley R. Martins, Indian Legal Assistance Program,
Alan L. Mitchell, St. Louis County Attorney, Thomas G. Stanley, Assistant County Attorney, 100 North Fifth Avenue West, #501, Duluth, MN 55802-1298 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Dietzen, Judge; and Ross, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court order sustaining the forfeiture of her vehicle under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 (2004), arguing that clear and convincing evidence was presented that she did not have constructive knowledge that her ex-husband would use the vehicle in a manner contrary to law. Because the undisputed evidence supports the district court’s decision, we affirm.
Appellant Karen Michelle Elbaghdadi purchased a 1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse, VIN #4A3CS44T7LE008703 (the Eclipse), for the benefit of her 15-year-old son. Because the Eclipse was not drivable, appellant asked her ex-husband, Brian LaBarge, who is a mechanic, to repair the Eclipse to make it useable for their son. LaBarge agreed, and the Eclipse was towed to his residence to do the repair work. At the time LaBarge received the Eclipse, appellant knew that LaBarge’s driver’s license was suspended and that he was not legally permitted to drive.
More than two months later, LaBarge was arrested for driving the Eclipse while impaired. When LaBarge stated that the Eclipse belonged to appellant, state trooper Travis Pearson called appellant to advise her that the vehicle was seized as a result of its unlawful operation by LaBarge and was being towed. LaBarge pleaded guilty and was convicted of third-degree driving while impaired (DWI) in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.20 (2004).
Appellant challenged the forfeiture of the Eclipse under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, subd. 7(d) (2004). The complaint stated, inter alia, “[t]hat because of the numerous repairs that needed to be done to the vehicle, [appellant] gave permission to Mr. LaBarge to drive the Mitsubishi for the purpose of test driving the vehicle in order to effectuate the needed repairs.”
At the forfeiture hearing, trooper Pearson testified that his background check revealed that LaBarge had a prior DWI conviction; and that during a telephone conversation, appellant stated to him that both she and LaBarge owned the Eclipse and that she had given LaBarge permission to test drive it.
At the forfeiture hearing, appellant confirmed that she was the registered owner of the Eclipse and had arranged for the Eclipse to be towed to LaBarge’s home for him to do repairs on the vehicle, and that the project was “open ended” with no fixed deadline to complete the repairs. Appellant admitted that she gave LaBarge the only set of keys to the Eclipse but “told him not to drive the vehicle” and that she knew LaBarge’s driver’s license had been suspended and it was unlawful for him to drive.
Following the hearing, the district court ordered forfeiture of the Eclipse, determining that “[appellant’s] vehicle, driven by [appellant’s] ex-husband, Brian LaBarge, was subject to forfeiture under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, and the presumption of forfeiture was not overcome by [appellant].” This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
contends that the district court erred in determining that the Eclipse was
subject to forfeiture. We review conclusions of law de novo. Modrow
v. JP Foodservice, Inc., 656 N.W.2d 389, 393 (
[a] motor vehicle is not subject to forfeiture under this section if its owner can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the owner did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the vehicle would be used or operated in any manner contrary to law or that the owner took reasonable steps to prevent use of the vehicle by the offender.
The crux of this appeal is whether appellant had actual or constructive knowledge that LaBarge would drive the Eclipse in a manner contrary to law. Appellant argues that she did not give LaBarge permission to test drive the vehicle; hence, she did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the Eclipse would be used in a manner contrary to law.
Here, the district court’s order is conclusory, which makes appellate review difficult. But it is undisputed that appellant had the Eclipse delivered to LaBarge’s residence and that she gave him the only set of keys to the vehicle, which provided him with exclusive control over it. At the time appellant gave LaBarge the vehicle, she knew that his driver’s license was revoked and that it was unlawful for him to drive the Eclipse for any purpose. Although appellant gave the Eclipse to LaBarge to make it roadworthy, the time to complete the repairs was open-ended, and LaBarge had the vehicle for more than two months at the time of the arrest.
Appellant concedes that authorizing LaBarge to test drive the Eclipse would support a finding that she had “knowledge that the vehicle would be used or operated in [a] manner contrary to law.” Appellant, nonetheless, argues that she presented clear and convincing evidence that she did not have actual or constructive knowledge that the Eclipse would be used in any manner contrary to law. We disagree.
Although appellant contends that she did not give LaBarge permission to drive the Eclipse, her testimony is contradicted by trooper Pearson, who testified that during a telephone conversation, appellant told him that she gave LaBarge permission to drive the Eclipse. Appellant’s testimony was also inconsistent with her complaint, which stated that “[appellant] gave permission to Mr. LaBarge to drive the Mitsubishi[.]” On this record, we cannot conclude that the district court erred in determining that appellant failed to overcome the presumption of forfeiture, i.e., that she lacked knowledge that the Eclipse would be “used or operated in any manner contrary to law.”
Appellant further argues that she “took reasonable steps to prevent use of the [Eclipse]” by instructing LaBarge not to drive it. But it is undisputed that appellant gave LaBarge the only set of keys to the Eclipse and he had possession of the Eclipse during the two months that he possessed it. On this record, we cannot conclude that the district court erred in concluding that appellant failed to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that appellant took “reasonable steps to prevent use of the vehicle” by LaBarge.