Calhoun v. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 51194
|255 Iowa 1375,125 N.W.2d 121
|10 December 1963
|Harry L. CALHOUN, Appellant, v. FARM BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellee.
|United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Newport, Wine & Schebler, Davenport, for appellant.
John E. McCracken, Davenport, for appellee.
This is a law action by plaintiff, Harry L. Calhoun, to enforce payment by defendant, Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, on its automobile insurance policy with him for collision damage to a 1958 Pontiac automobile. Defendant alleged plaintiff had sold the car prior to its damage and was not the owner. Plaintiff had an Iowa Certificate of Title to the vehicle on which he relied to establish his ownership under Code section 321.45(2), I.C.A.
After trial to the court and a judgment dismissing his petition and assessing costs against him, plaintiff has appealed.
The facts are not in dispute. In June 1960 plaintiff purchased a 1958 Pontiac and obtained a certificate of title (exhibit 1) showing him as owner. Within a few days he obtained from defendant an insurance policy including 'collision coverage' with a $50 deductible clause therein.
In November 1960 plaintiff and Rick Hudson, his fellow employee and friend, agreed to the terms of a trade of automobiles. The latter part of November they took possession of each other's automobile. Each was to keep in repair the vehicle in his possession. In order to finance the trade, Hudson was to apply for a loan from his credit union when he became eligible on January 5, 1961. No transfer of the certificate of title on the 1958 Pontiac was to be made by plaintiff until Hudson's loan had been approved by the credit union.
December 10, 1960, Hudson driving the 1958 Pontiac wrecked it causing total loss. Plaintiff notified defendant insurance company and made claim under the 'collision coverage' section. After full disclosure by plaintiff of his arrangement with Hudson, defendant denied his claim on the ground he was not the owner of the car. The value of the car was $2200.
The trial court found there had been a completed sale of the Pontiac prior to collision damage and therefore plaintiff was not insured by defendant's policy for damages to a car not owned by him. The court ruled the statute, Code section 321.45, I.C.A., requiring a certificate of title to an automobile has no reference to the transfer of title between buyer and seller.
Plaintiff asserts the trial court erred in these findings and ruling. He contends the certificate of title to an automobile is conclusive evidence of ownership except for purpose of determining whether the certificate holder is liable for damages to others resulting from negligent operation of the automobile by another. He argues but for this exception, which is stated in the statute, by Code section 321.45(2), I.C.A., title remains in the registered owner until he assigns the certificate of title. It provides:
'321.45 Title must be transferred with vehicle. * * *
'2. Except as provided in section 321.50 and except for the purpose of section 321.493 no person shall acquire any right, title, claim or interest in or to any vehicle subject to registration under this chapter from the owner thereof except by virtue of a certificate of title issued or assigned to him for such vehicle or by virtue of a manufacturer's or importer's certificate delivered to him for such vehicle; nor shall any waiver or estoppel operate in favor of any person claiming title to or interest in any vehicle against a person having possession of the certificate of title or manufacturer's or importer's certificate for such vehicle for a valuable consideration. Except as provided in section 321.50 and except for the purpose of section 321.493, no court in any case at law or equity shall recognize the right, title, claim or interest of any person in or to any vehicle subject to registration sold or disposed of, or mortgaged or encumbered, unless evidenced by a certificate of title or manufacturer's or importer's certificate duly issued or assigned in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.'
Soon after the enactment in 1953 of the Iowa Motor Vehicle Certificate of Title Law, of which section 321.45(2) is a part, Professor Richard S. Hudson of the Drake University College of Law wrote the first of his three excellent articles discussing the Iowa Act and other acts. Those articles are '1953 Iowa Motor Vehicle Certificate of Title Law', 3 Drake L.Rev. 3 (1953), 'Iowa Motor Vehicle Certificate of Title Law II', 4 Drake L.Rev. 86 (1954), and 'Iowa Motor Motor Vehicle Certificate of Title Law III', 5 Drake L.Rev. 31 (1955). At pages 3 and 4 of his first article he states:
* * *
Since the enactment of section 321.45(2) we have had but one case involving whether title to a motor vehicle has passed without an assignment of the title certificate. In Varvaris v. Varvaris, Iowa, 124 N.W.2d 163 (filed October 15, 1963) we held a gift inter vivos of two automobiles was not completed without assignment of title certificates under the statute.
Several other jurisdictions have construed their automobile title certificate statutes. The holdings are not uniform as might be expected. Facts and different statutory provisions account for what at first reading appears to be sharp conflicts. Ohio and Nebraska statutes are almost identical with Code section 321.45(2), I.C.A.
In Crawford Finance Co. v. Derby, 63 Ohio App. 50, 25 N.E.2d 306, a dealer had mortgaged an automobile to plaintiff finance company and gave it possession of the title certificate. Defendant Derby, without any knowledge of the chattel mortgage, purchased the automobile from the dealer and paid for it by transferring his used car and paying cash to the dealer. In a replevin action the Ohio court held for the finance company. It said:
'Section 6290-4, General Code, quite effectively precludes a would-be purchaser from acquiring any right or interest whatever in a motor vehicle, except by way of an official certificate of title. * * * it is apparent that the Legislature intended to set up one and only one method by which liens on or titles to a motor vehicle could be acquired. To a purchaser, it makes a certificate of title issued by a clerk of courts on a proper application, accompanied by the preceding certificate, either manufacturer's or owner's, the sine qua non to any right or title therein.
'The manufacturer's certificate was the key to the whole situation. As long as plaintiff held it, it knew no one could acquire a title or lien ahead of its lien, nor could 'any waiver or estoppel operate in favor' of any person against it, and it knew that 'no court in any case at law or in equity' could 'recognize the right, title, claim, or interest of any person in or to any (that) motor vehicle.''
In re Case's Estate, 161 Ohio St. 288, 118 N.E.2d 836, holds a daughter in whose name the certificate of title and insurance were issued was the owner of a car, although her deceased father purchased and paid for it, as well as for the license and insurance, and had possession of it most of the time. The Ohio court states:
'This statute says two things in clear and unambiguous language: (1) No person acquiring a motor vehicle shall acquire any right, title, claim or interest in it until he shall have issued to him a certificate of title. No certificate of title was issued to the decedent. (2) No court in any case at law or in equity shall recognize the right, title, claim or interest of any person in or to any motor vehicle, etc., unless evidenced by a certificate of title. The only certificates of title issued are in the name of the daughter.
'In view of this statute, how can a court entertain evidence to contradict the certificate of title? How can a court find that the equitable title is in someone other than the holder of the certificate of title? All courts are forbidden, either in law or equity, to recognize any right, claim or interest, as well as any title, unless evidenced by a certificate of title.
'It has been urged that the General Assembly did not intend the results which seem inevitable under this statute. This argument is supported by citing the purpose of the Ohio Certificate of Title Act as being 'to prevent the importation of stolen motor vehicles and thefts and frauds in the transfer of title to motor vehicles.' There is much force to this argument but it does not change the language of the statute. It may also be observed that the accomplishment of the purpose above set forth might necessitate and justify an act so broad and so drastic that it would affect conduct and fields of activity not included within the scope of the primary objective. Furthermore, if the common law of resulting trusts, so far as motor vehicles are concerned, has been abrogated by...
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