This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




James T. Slaughter,



Calvin Kight,


Elizabeth Kight,


Filed January 14, 1997


Huspeni, Judge

Scott County District Court

File No. 9503525

William Starr, Starr & Fleagle, P.L.C., 208 Grain Exchange Bldg., 400 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for Appellant)

Charles A. Beckjord, 1625 Park Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55404 (for Appellant)

William M. Hart, Christopher J. Schulte, Meagher & Geer, P.L.L.P., 4200 Multifoods Tower, 33 South Sixth St., Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for Respondent Calvin Kight)

Owen L. Sorenson, Stringer & Rohleder, Ltd., 1200 Norwest Center Tower, 55 E. Fifth St., St. Paul, MN 55101 (for Respondent Elizabeth Kight)

Considered and decided by Huspeni, Presiding Judge, Parker, Judge, and Lansing, Judge.



The trial court, having concluded that respondent Calvin Kight was not the owner of the vehicle that injured appellant, dismissed appellant's action against him. Appellant moved for a new trial or relief from judgment; his motion was denied. Because we see no error in the trial court's determination that respondent Calvin Kight was not the vehicle's owner, we affirm.


Respondent Elizabeth Kight, then 19, moved out of her parents' home in February 1993. At the time, her car was insured on the State Farm policy issued to her father, respondent Calvin Kight, who received a multi-vehicle discount. Elizabeth paid her father for the premium each month.

In 1994 Elizabeth purchased a new Toyota Tercel. She made the down payment, arranged for financing with the bank, took possession of the car, made monthly payments, and paid for maintenance and gas. She used her parents' address on the car title, because she still regarded that as her permanent address.

Elizabeth called her insurance agent to cancel insurance on her old car and obtain insurance on the Tercel. The agent deleted the old car from her father's insurance policy and added the Tercel to it. Calvin Kight was not consulted about the addition. Elizabeth continued to pay her father each month for her share of the insurance premium.

In May 1994 Elizabeth struck and severely injured appellant James Slaughter with her car as he was helping to push a van along the road. Appellant brought a negligence action against Elizabeth Kight and also sued Calvin Kight under the Safety Responsibility Act. After settling with Elizabeth for the $100,000 limit of her policy, appellant proceeded against Calvin Kight on the theory that he was a co-owner of the Tercel.

Following a bench trial the court concluded that Elizabeth Kight was the sole owner of the car and dismissed appellant's action against Calvin Kight. Appellant's motion for a new trial or relief from judgment was denied. Appellant challenges the conclusions of law that Calvin Kight was not an owner of the car and the findings on which that conclusion is based.[1]


[T]his court will only reverse a trial court's findings of fact if, upon review of the entire evidence, we are "left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made."

In re Guardianship of Dawson, 502 N.W.2d 65, 68 (Minn. App. 1993) (quoting Gjovik v. Strope, 401 N.W.2d 664, 667 (Minn. 1987)), review denied (Minn. Aug. 16, 1993). However, a reviewing court is not bound by and need not give deference to a trial court's decision on a purely legal issue. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W. 2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).

Because Elizabeth Kight's name appeared on the Tercel title, she was its prima facie owner. See Minn. Stat. § 168A.05, subd. 6 (1994). She was also its owner pursuant to most of the factors listed in 4 Minnesota Practice CIVJIG 306 (1986): who took physical delivery of the vehicle, the circumstances under which it was purchased, who furnished part or all of the purchase price, whose name appears on the purchase invoice, who obtained or paid for the insurance covering the vehicle, who is the named insured in the policy, who provided upkeep and repair, and who exercised control over the use of the vehicle.

Elizabeth Kight took physical delivery of the vehicle, chose it herself, furnished the down payment, arranged financing and made monthly payments, is listed on the purchase invoice, obtained coverage by calling her insurance agent, paid for the coverage by reimbursing her father, provided all repair and upkeep, and had full control over the use of the vehicle.

Appellant argues that Calvin Kight was the co-owner because he was the named insured on the policy. However, being the named insured has been held insufficient to establish prima facie ownership even when the named insured is also the owner listed on the title. See Rife v. One 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier, 485 N.W.2d 318 (Minn. App. 1992) (holding that because named insured's daughter told police she was the owner of the car and had purchased it with her own money, and daughter had use and control of the vehicle, the named insured, although listed as the owner on the title, was not the prima facie owner), review denied (Minn. June 30, 1992).

Courts look at all relevant circumstances in establishing ownership of a vehicle. See, e.g., Preferred Risk Mut. Ins. Co. v. Anderson, 277 Minn. 342, 348, 152 N.W.2d 476, 482 (1967) (party who paid the entire purchase price, had legal title, secured and paid for insurance, and retained control of the use of the vehicle found to be the owner, despite another party's being permitted to use the vehicle, keeping it in his possession, and signing a note for part of its purchase price); Quaderer v. Integrity Mut. Ins. Co., 263 Minn. 383, 116 N.W.2d 605 (1962) (finding co-ownership where father and son together chose a car, father paid entire purchase price, was registered owner, and maintained policy on vehicles used by himself or members of household including son, and son was principal user and had promised to repay purchase price). Elizabeth Kight chose, purchased, and paid for her car independently, had title to it, had it in her possession, was its exclusive user, arranged and paid for its insurance, and had full control over it. Both Preferred Risk Mutual and Quaderer indicate she was the sole owner.

We are not persuaded by appellant's argument that Calvin Kight is estopped from asserting that he is not the owner of the vehicle because he allegedly asserted that he was the owner by procuring insurance. Calvin Kight did not procure the insurance: both Elizabeth Kight and the insurance agent testified that she made the call instructing him to replace her previous car with the Tercel on the policy. Minn. Stat. § 65B.43 (1994) requires vehicle owners to procure insurance: it does not define all those who procure insurance as ipso facto owners of the insured vehicle.

Moreover, estoppel requires reliance on the part of the party seeking to enforce the estoppel. Northern Petrochemical Co. v. United States Fire Ins. Co., 277 N.W.2d 408, 410 (Minn. 1979). Appellant seeks to estop Calvin Kight, but there is no indication that appellant relied on any representation by Calvin Kight. Appellant claims that Calvin Kight misrepresented to the insurance commissioner that Elizabeth was a member of his household and argues that a showing of reliance is not necessary where there has been a misrepresentation to the insurance commissioner, citing Sawyer v. Midland Ins. Co., 383 N.W.2d 691 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. Jan. 2, 1987). However, "Sawyer is not an equitable estoppel case." Anderson v. Minnesota Ins. Guar. Ass'n, 520 N.W.2d 155, 166 (Minn. App. 1994) (Holtan, J. dissenting), reversed 534 N.W.2d 706 (Minn. 1995). Anderson rejected the view that a misrepresentation to the insurance commissioner substitutes for a showing of reliance:

An essential element of equitable estoppel is reasonable reliance. * * * Whether reasonable reliance exists involves two inquiries: (1) whether reliance occurred, and (2) whether that reliance was reasonable.

Anderson, 534 N.W.2d at 709 (citations omitted). Here, appellant has made no showing that reliance occurred. His estoppel argument must fail.

The trial court did not err in determining that Calvin Kight was not the owner of the vehicle that injured appellant and in dismissing appellant's action against Kight.


[ ]1We note that this appeal is actually from the order denying appellant's motion for a new trial or relief from judgment. However, because the issue addressed by the parties was actually the adequacy of the findings and conclusions, that will be the subject of our review.