Injured? Contact Sinas Dramis for a free consultation.

   

Titus v Auto-Owners Ins Co, et al (COA – UNP 11/23/2021; RB #4353)

Print

Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #353581; Unpublished
Judges Rick, Ronayne Krause, and Letica; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion


STATUTORY INDEXING:
Not Applicable

TOPICAL INDEXING:
Motor Vehicle Code (Civil Liability of Owner) (MCL 257.401)
Motor Vehicle Code (Registration and Title Requirements) (MCL 257.201, Et Seq.)


SUMMARY:
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Marylynn Titus’s third-party action against Defendant Mikes Cars, LLC (“Mikes Cars”). At issue in this case was whether Mikes Cars effectively transferred title of a vehicle it sold to Ronald Benfield II, who crashed into Titus immediately upon leaving Mikes Cars’ lot in said vehicle. The Court of Appeals held that title did transfer to Benfield prior to the crash, and that summary disposition, therefore, was properly granted in Mikes Cars’ favor with respect to Titus’s claims against Mikes Cars pursuant to Michigan’s owner’s liability statute. The Court noted that, under MCL 257.233(9), the operative date for determining when a vehicle’s title is transferred is the date of signature on either the application for title or on the assignment of the certificate of title. In this case, there was no dispute that the application for title was signed prior to the motor vehicle crash.

Ronald Benfield II rear-ended Titus’s vehicle on January 8, 2018, while driving a motor vehicle he had just purchased from Mikes Cars. Benfield had a suspended driver’s license at the time of the crash and had either purchased the vehicle from Mikes Cars on January 6th, or on January 8th, immediately prior to the crash. A Mikes Cars salesperson testified that the sale took place on January 6th, but that Benfield did not actually take possession of the vehicle at that time because he did not have proof of insurance. The salesperson testified that he merely gave Benfield the keys and parked the car in a nearby lot until Benfield secured insurance. Benfield, conversely, testified that the transaction took place on January 8th, and that the crash occurred minutes later as he drove off the lot. Benfield also testified that he signed the application for title prior to driving off the lot. After the crash, Titus filed the underlying third-party lawsuit against Benfield, including a count against Mikes Cars pursuant to Michigan’s owner’s liability statute. Mikes Cars moved for summary disposition, arguing that there was no genuine issue of material fact that the title of the vehicle had transferred to Benfield prior to the crash, and that Mikes Cars was therefore not an owner at the time of the crash. The trial court agreed, granting Mikes Cars’ motion.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order, rejecting Titus’s argument on appeal that there were genuine issues of material fact, given the conflicting accounts regarding the sales transaction, as to whether title had actually passed from Mikes Cars to Benfield at the time of the crash. The Court of Appeals held that none of the conflicting evidence regarding the sales transaction was material to the issue of whether title had passed, because MCL 257.233(9) makes clear that “ ‘the operative date for when title transfers is ‘the date of signature on either the application for title or the assignment of the certificate of title by the purchaser, transferee, or assignee.’ ” In this case, although some facts regarding the sale of the vehicle were disputed, there was no evidence to suggest that the application for title was not signed prior to the crash. To the contrary, all the available evidence suggested that it was.

“Even though there was conflicting evidence concerning some of the circumstances surrounding Benfield’s purchase of the Grand Cherokee, there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding both that the Grand Cherokee was delivered to Benfield and that he signed the application for title before the motor vehicle accident. Benfield testified that he purchased the Grand Cherokee 10 minutes before the motor vehicle accident, and had only driven a few miles before colliding with plaintiff’s vehicle. Benfield confirmed that he drove the Grand Cherokee off the lot, that it was not towed off, and that he signed the application for title on January 8, 2018. Conversely, Kanan testified that the sales transaction took place on Saturday, January 6, 2018, and that he gave the keys for the Grand Cherokee to Benfield because he had fully paid for the vehicle. However, Kanan testified that the Grand Cherokee was left in an Auto Zone parking lot for Benfield to pick up after he secured no-fault insurance. Therefore, the evidence demonstrated that factual disputes existed with regard to the date of the transfer of title and the manner in which the Grand Cherokee left the dealership lot before the motor vehicle accident occurred. There were also discrepancies between the copy of the RD-108 form submitted to the Secretary of State’s office and the form retained by Mikes Cars. However, none of these factual disputes were material to the determinative issue of whether Benfield signed the application for title before the accident. Benfield admitted that he signed the application for title on the day that he purchased the vehicle and drove it off the lot. He admitted that the accident occurred after he left the lot at Mikes Cars. And, he stated that, after the accident, he did not return to Mikes Cars until several weeks later, to pick up the title, which the Secretary of State’s office had mailed to Mikes Cars. Put simply, regardless of whether the purchase took place on January 6, 2018, or January 8, 2018, or whether the vehicle was driven off the lot or towed from the lot, there was no genuine issue of material fact that Benfield signed the application for title before the motor vehicle accident. There is no evidence supporting an inference that the application for title was not signed until after the accident. Therefore, under MCL 257.233(9), title to the Grand Cherokee had passed from Mikes Cars to Benfield before Benfield rear-ended plaintiff’s vehicle.”

The Court of Appeals also rejected Titus’s alternative argument regarding the applicability of MCL 257.633(6) in this case. To the extent Titus argued that MCL 257.633(6) rendered the sale incomplete or in some way created liability for Mikes Cars, the Court of Appeals held that it did not. MCL 257.633(6) prohibits a person from purchasing a motor vehicle "during the period of 'a fourth or subsequent suspension or revocation' " of their license, but in this case, there was no evidence that Benfield’s suspension was a fourth or subsequent one. Moreover, while MCL 257.633(6) prohibits certain individuals from purchasing motor vehicles, it does not impose any liability on sellers of motor vehicles.

“MCL 257.233(6) only prohibits a person from purchasing a motor vehicle during the period of ‘a fourth or subsequent suspension or revocation.’ There is no evidence, and plaintiff does not contend, that Benfield’s suspension involved a fourth or subsequent suspension. Furthermore, although MCL 257.233(6) prohibits a person from purchasing a vehicle under the prescribed circumstances, it does not impose liability on the seller of a vehicle. Plaintiff has not cited any caselaw or other authority that would impose any responsibility or liability on the dealership and Alenooz for doing so. The plain language of the statute is unambiguous and applies only to the purchaser of a vehicle, not a seller. See Sandstone Creek Solar, LLC, ___ Mich App at___; slip op at 7. Accordingly, plaintiff’s reliance on MCL 257.233(6) is misplaced.”


Lansing car accident lawyer Stephen Sinas is the lead editor of the appellate case summaries published on this site regarding the Michigan auto insurance law. To learn more about how Stephen Sinas and how the Sinas Dramis Law Firm can help you if you have been injured in a Michigan auto accident, visit SinasDramis.com.

Copyright © 2022 Sinas Dramis Law Firm, George Sinas, Stephen Sinas.
All Rights Reserved.
Login (Publishers Only)

FacebookTwitterInstagram