Atwood Chevrolet-Olds, Inc. v. Aberdeen Municipal School Dist., CHEVROLET-OLDS

Decision Date25 May 1983
Docket NumberCHEVROLET-OLDS,No. 53783,53783
Citation431 So.2d 926
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

LaBarre & LaBarre, Oscar P. LaBarre, Vicksburg, for appellant.

Houston, Chamberlin & Houston, Claude A. Chamberlin, Aberdeen, for appellee.


PRATHER, Justice, for the Court:

Atwood Chevrolet-Olds., Inc., filed this replevin action in the Circuit Court of Monroe County to recover two school buses in the possession of the Aberdeen Municipal School District. Atwood was the owner of the chassis in each bus and retained the certificate of origin to the chassis. The school district acquired the buses by purchase from an insolvent intermediate dealer.

The lower court held that the provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code controlled when Atwood placed the chassis in the stream of commerce and entrusted them to a dealer who sold the chassis in the ordinary course of business to an innocent purchaser for value. As a result of this determination, the school district was permitted to retain possession of the buses. It is Atwood's sole contention on appeal, however, that a different result would have been reached if the lower court had properly applied the motor vehicular statutes on point.


The facts of this case are basically undisputed. Atwood Chevrolet-Olds., Inc. purchased Chevrolet chassis for buses from General Motors Inc. In turn, these parts were "drop shipped" to Carpenter Body Works in Mitchell, Indiana. Carpenter placed a bus body on each General Motors chassis. Brantley Bus Sales Inc., the sole Mississippi distributor for Carpenter buses, was then responsible for the sale and delivery of the finished bus to customers. Under the usual procedure, Brantley first received the sales price for each motor vehicle, then sought the transfer of title to the new customer, and then finally paid Atwood the price of each chassis. Atwood was not involved in these sales transactions.

This particular case began when the Aberdeen School District sought the purchase, through bid procedures as required by law, of two school buses from Brantley during August of 1980. Atwood, as it had in the past, authorized the release of the buses by Carpenter to Brantley so that the sale could be consummated. On August 28, 1980, Brantley delivered the buses to Aberdeen and received the full purchase price. According to the school district superintendent, the purchase was effected without incident in the same manner as in past transactions.

After Atwood failed to receive payment from Brantley, it learned that Brantley's business was encountering financial difficulty. In September of 1980, Atwood contacted the school district superintendent to inquire about the receipt of the buses. Upon learning that the buses had in fact been delivered to the district during the preceding month, and since the invoice for the chassis remained unpaid, Atwood told the superintendent that it still retained a right of possession and ownership to the buses. When Aberdeen did not concede to Atwood's request for return of the buses or to a second payment, this replevin suit was instituted by Atwood.

Both Brantley and Atwood acknowledged during trial that there was no notice to the Aberdeen School District of Atwood's interest in the chassis. Also, it was admitted that Atwood's actual claim extended solely to the chassis and not to the entire bus. Finally, it should be recognized that Atwood held the certificate of origin to the bus, and no transfer of that certificate was ever made between Atwood or Brantley to the school district.


The threshold question is whether the pertinent Mississippi Vehicle Title Statute, section 63-21-31 of the Mississippi Code Annotated (1972), prevails over the pertinent Mississippi Commercial Code provision, section 75-2-403(2) of the Mississippi Code Annotated (1972). We hold that it does not.

Section 63-21-31

provides that transfer of a vehicle is not effective unless, "at the time of the delivery of the vehicle", the owner executes an assignment and warranty of title to the transferee. On the other hand, section 75-2-403(2) provides that:

"any entrusting of possession of goods to a merchant who deals in goods of that kind gives him power to transfer all rights of the entruster to a buyer in [the] ordinary course of business." In other words, the latter statutory section does not impose the requirement of obtaining a certificate of origin or title at the time of delivery of the vehicle.

Thus, these two statutes, in some aspects, are concerned with the same subject matter. When statutes are in pari materia, although apparently conflicting, they should, if possible, be construed in harmony with each other to give effect to each. Lamar County Sch. Bd. of Lamar County v. Saul, 359 So.2d 350 (Miss.1978); McCullen v. State ex rel. Alexander for Use of Hinds County, 217 Miss. 256, 63 So.2d 856 (1953); Greaves v. Hinds County, 166 Miss. 89, 145 So. 900 (1933). Several jurisdictions have encountered the same disputes arising from similar conflicting statutes, and those jurisdictions have reasoned that a good faith purchaser should prevail.

Some of those courts have recognized that the intent and spirit of the title statutes would not be served in preventing the passage of ownership to a bona fide purchaser for value without notice. Medico Leasing Co. v. Smith, 457 P.2d 548 (Okla.1969); Hento v. Melmer, 73 S.D. 455, 44 N.W.2d 212 (1950). The major purpose behind such title statutes is to facilitate the recovery of stolen cars, and to establish a...

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