344 F.2d 18 (4th Cir. 1965), 9708, Clouse v. American Mut. Liability Ins. Co.

Docket Nº:9708.
Citation:344 F.2d 18
Party Name:Lawrence A. CLOUSE and Employers Mutual Liability Insurance Company of Wisconsin, Appellants, v. AMERICAN MUTUAL LIABILITY INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellee.
Case Date:March 25, 1965
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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344 F.2d 18 (4th Cir. 1965)

Lawrence A. CLOUSE and Employers Mutual Liability Insurance Company of Wisconsin, Appellants,

v.

AMERICAN MUTUAL LIABILITY INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellee.

No. 9708.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

March 25, 1965

Argued Feb. 3, 1965.

Henry B. Smythe, Charleston, S.C. (Buist, Buist, Smythe & Smythe, Charleston, S.C., on brief), for appellants.

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William H. Grimball, Jr., Charleston, S.C. (Grimball & Cabaniss, Charleston, S.C., on brief), for appellee.

Before BRYAN and J. SPENCER BELL, Circuit Judges, and CHRISTIE, District Judge.

J. SPENCER BELL, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiff brought this action to establish the liability of the defendant under its garagekeeper's liability insurance policy issued to Prothro Chevrolet, Inc. (hereinafter Prothro), an automobile dealer in Manning, South Carolina, for damages sustained in an automobile collision with one Freddie G. Munn. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.

On June 5, 1961, Prothro delivered to Munn a 1956 Oldsmobile automobile. The title to this automobile was listed by the State of South Carolina in one Woodrow Way, from whom Prothro had repossessed it under the terms of a conditional sales contract. Munn made the required down payment and executed a conditional sales contract for the balance of the purchase price. He received from Prothro a car invoice, the completed Transfer and Warranty of Title by Registered Dealer (South Carolina State Highway Department Form 400), the old certificate of title which had been issued to Way, and a blank Liability Insurance Certificate (South Carolina State Highway Department Form 402). All of the forms except the certificate of insurance were completed by Prothro, the necessary filing fee of $1.00 was clipped thereto, and the papers were placed in an envelope addressed to the State Highway Department. The insurance certificate was not completed because Munn had no liability insurance; and since the State Highway Department will not issue the new title without this certificate, the specified documents were not mailed to the Department by Prothro as required by the statute but instead were delivered to Munn. Two days later the wreck occurred. Munn had neither purchased insurance nor completed and mailed the papers to the State Highway Department, nor had he complied with the alternative provisions of the Uninsured Motor Vehicles Law of South Carolina.

The plaintiff has recovered a judgment against Munn, and in this suit he seeks to hold the defendant liable for that judgment under the omnibus clause of the garagekeeper's liability insurance policy which it issued to Prothro. That clause covered 'any automobile owned by or in charge of the named insured,' and the word 'insured' included 'any person while using an automobile covered by this policy * * * provided the actual use of the automobile (was) by the named insured or with its permission.' The defendant insurance company participated in the unsuccessful defense of the plaintiff's suit against Munn.

The plaintiff contends that Prothro's failure to comply with the statutory requirements left him with an interest in the vehicle which entitles the plaintiff to hold the defendant responsible under the omnibus clause of the insurance policy quoted above. We agree.

In its laws governing motor vehicle registration and licensing, South Carolina Code of Laws, title 46 (1962), South Carolina has clearly spelled out a public policy that motor vehicles are not to be operated upon its highways without liability insurance coverage or its equivalents for uninsured motorists. Administratively, the state refuses to register or transfer title to or to license the operation of a vehicle without proof of insurance or its statutory equivalents. Sections 46-17(3) and 46-137. Failure to comply with the statute is a misdemeanor. Section 46-11. 1 We note parenthetically

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that we are not concerned with the alternatives to liability insurance in this case, sections 46-135 through 46-138.8, since it is conceded that neither Munn nor Prothro complied or attempted to comply with them.

We turn then to the particular statutes involved in this case. Two sections deal with how voluntary transfers are carried out and when such transfers are effective. Section 46-150.15 2 provides for those situations in which the transferor is the registered titleholder named in the certificate issued by the State Highway Department covering the subject automobile. In effect the section provides that the seller may either deliver the specified documents to his transferee who must thereupon mail or deliver them to the Department or the transferor may himself mail or deliver them to the Department. It further provides that except as between the parties, the transfer is not effective until the section has been complied with.

The other section dealing with voluntary transfers, section 46-150.16, 3 is the controlling provision in this case. It provides for those situations in which a registered dealer transfers a car of which he is not the registered titleholder. This section specifically provides that the transferor himself must mail or deliver the specified documents to the Department. Thus, in exchange for the privilege of holding the car in his stock for resale without having it titled in his own name, the responsibility is placed upon the dealer instead of the purchaser to see that the old certificate, together with any other necessary documents, is sent to the Department when the car is resold. In view of the fact that these papers must include a certification that the new applicant has liability insurance coverage or its equivalents before the Department will issue the new certificate of title, we are forced to the conclusion that the distinction between sections 46-150.15 and 46-150.16 is of legal significance in the state's program of insurance. It is an administrative device by which the state seeks to assure itself of continued liability coverage on a large number of secondhand cars sold throughout the state. We think section 46-150.16, when considered in conjunction with the other sections of the South Carolina Motor Vehicle Registration and Licensing Act and particularly section 46-150.15, indicates a legislative intent to hold the

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transfer ineffectual, certainly to the extent necessary to hold the insurance carrier liable under the circumstances of this case, unless there is compliance with its terms by the dealer-transferor. We think the failure of Prothro to comply with the statute left him with a responsibility for the operation of the car by Munn with his consent...

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