851 So.2d 266 (Fla.App. 5 Dist. 2003), 5D02-2308, Town of Oakland v. Mercer

Docket Nº5D02-2308
Citation851 So.2d 266, 28 Fla. L. Weekly D 1819
Opinion JudgeThe opinion of the court was delivered by: Sharp, W., J.
Party NameTOWN OF OAKLAND, Appellant, v. MICHAEL D. MERCER, Appellee.
AttorneyJ. Edwin Mills, Orlando,
Case DateAugust 01, 2003
CourtFlorida Court of Appeals, Fifth District

Page 266

851 So.2d 266 (Fla.App. 5 Dist. 2003)

28 Fla. L. Weekly D 1819

TOWN OF OAKLAND, Appellant,

v.

MICHAEL D. MERCER, Appellee.

No. 5D02-2308

Florida Court of Appeal, Fifth District.

August 1, 2003.

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Orange County, Dorothy J. Russell, Judge.

Page 267

J. Edwin Mills, Orlando, for Appellant.

Robert Alfert, Jr., P.A., of Broad and Cassel, Orlando, for Appellee.

SHARP, W., J.

The Town of Oakland appeals from a final summary judgment entered against it in a forfeiture case. We affirm. The record reveals no unresolved issues of material fact, and the appellee, Michael Mercer (Mercer), is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

The record discloses that on November 1, 2000, Oakland, acting through its police officer, Kelley, seized a 1999 Ford truck to investigate the legitimacy of its registration. He later determined that there was a 9,000 mile discrepancy in the truck’s odometer mileage reading. 1 On that day Kelley talked with Shelby Auto Sales (Shelby), an Ohio auto dealer, who was indicated as the title holder on a title document issued by the State of Ohio found in the truck. He also spoke with Mercer, the individual to whom Shelby had transferred the title, as indicated by Shelby’s signature on the back of the title.

Oakland filed a forfeiture complaint on December 19, 2000. On the same day, Shelby made a demand for a post seizure adversarial hearing. The hearing was held on December 21, 2000, at which time Oakland had the burden of establishing probable cause for forfeiture of the property seized — a due process requirement. See § 932.703(2)(a), Fla. Stat. (2000); In re Forfeiture of One Hundred Seventy-One Thousand Nine Hundred Dollars ($171,900) in United States Currency, 711 So.2d 1269 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998).

Page 268

At that hearing, the court determined that Shelby did not have standing to contest the forfeiture based on arguments presented by Oakland. When questioned by the court, Oakland’s attorney argued that Mercer was the only person who could contest the forfeiture because, as evidenced by the title certificate, Shelby had transferred ownership of the truck to Mercer. In addition, the attorney pointed out that Mercer had obtained insurance coverage from State Farm for the truck.

Shelby’s agent, Kaufman, testified that he had accepted money from Mercer for the truck, and he had executed the Ohio title to the truck to Mercer. He tried to transfer Florida title to Mercer, but the tag office in Florida refused to accept the title, since its records showed an “unrebuildable title” status. 2

Kauffman agreed to refund Mercer’s money and take back the truck if he could not straighten out the title problems. He contacted the auction where the truck had been purchased, to clear up the title problem, and later obtained a clean title. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge found Shelby did not have standing and thus did not reach the probable cause issue.

On January 11, 2001, Mercer filed a motion to dismiss the forfeiture complaint, or for summary judgment. At this hearing, the attorneys for both parties agreed the title issue had been cleared up and a clean title had been issued. However, the attorney for Oakland argued Mercer did not have standing to contest the forfeiture. The trial court entered final summary judgment for Mercer.

With regard to Mercers standing to contest the forfeiture, we agree with the ruling below for two reasons. Section 932.701(2)(h) definesclaimant, persons who have standing to contest forfeiture of property under the act, asany party who has a proprietary interest in property subject to forfeiture and has standing to challenge such forfeiture, including owners, registered owners, bona fide lien holders, and titleholders. Mercer was indicated as the...

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