Decision Date08 February 2001
Docket NumberNo. C7-99-1577.,C7-99-1577.
Citation622 N.W.2d 114
PartiesTerrance Lee GENIN, Petitioner, Appellant, v. 1996 MERCURY MARQUIS, VIN No. 2MEBP95F9CX644211, LICENSE NO. MN 225 NSG, Respondent.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Charles A. Ramsay, Rebecca M. Rhoda, Ramsay & Devore, P.A., Roseville, for appellant.

James D. Hoeft, Scott M. Lepak, Barna, Guzy & Steffan, Ltd., Minneapolis, for respondent.

Minnesota Soc. of Crim. Justice, Jeffrey S. Sheridan, Eagan, amicus curiae.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.



At issue in this case is the question of who must pay storage fees when the police seize and store a vehicle pursuant to a vehicle forfeiture statute, Minn.Stat. § 169.1217 (1998),1 where the vehicle is ultimately returned to the owner after a judicial forfeiture determination. The court of appeals held that the vehicle owner is responsible for the accumulated storage fees. We reverse.

Terrance Lee Genin was arrested for driving while intoxicated on August 22, 1998, in the city of Centerville. He was charged with three gross misdemeanor alcohol-related driving offenses: Count I was "Driving with an Alcohol Concentration of Over .20, 2nd in Five Years," which carried a two-year maximum sentence and was an "enhanced" gross misdemeanor;2 Count II was "DWI, 2nd in Five Years," which carried a maximum penalty of one year in jail; and Count III was "Driving with an Alcohol Concentration of Over .10, 2nd in Five Years," which carried a one-year maximum penalty. The forfeiture statute pursuant to which the police seized Genin's vehicle permits forfeiture only for certain designated offenses. Minn.Stat. § 169.1217, subds. 6-7 (1998); see Minn.Stat. § 169.1217, subd. 1(c) (1998) (listing the violations that constitute designated offenses). Genin's vehicle was seized because Count I charged an enhanced gross misdemeanor that was a designated offense.

The police seized Genin's vehicle pursuant to an administrative forfeiture provision of the forfeiture statute. The police provided Genin notice of his right to file a demand for a judicial forfeiture determination and Genin filed the demand.

On January 27, 1999, Genin received his judicial forfeiture determination. The district court dismissed the forfeiture complaint without prejudice because, at that point, there had been no judicial determination as to license revocation or the criminal charges against Genin. The court therefore ordered that Genin's vehicle be returned to him. The record does not indicate whether Genin attempted to retrieve his vehicle at that point, but the record is clear that in fact the vehicle remained in storage.

On March 15, 1999, Genin pled guilty to Driving With an Alcohol Concentration of Over .10, Second in Five Years, an offense not designated under the forfeiture statute, and the state dismissed the remainder of the charges against him. On March 24, 1999, the City of Centerville, notwithstanding the fact that the only count charging an offense designated under the forfeiture statute had been dismissed, filed a forfeiture complaint against Genin pursuant to Minn.Stat. § 169.1217, subd. 8 (1998), which provides for a judicial forfeiture procedure.

As a consequence of the city's filing a forfeiture complaint against Genin, he received another judicial forfeiture determination. On July 14, 1999, because Genin was not convicted of a designated offense, the district court dismissed the city's forfeiture complaint and ordered that Genin's vehicle be returned to him. The court order did not mention storage fees. Genin attempted to retrieve his vehicle and was informed by the storage facility that until he paid $5,500 in accumulated storage fees, he could not have the vehicle. Genin, who asserts that the fees total more than the value of his vehicle, did not pay the fees or retrieve the vehicle.

On August 12, 1999, Genin appeared before the district court requesting that the city be held responsible for the storage fees. He raised three arguments in support of his request. First, Genin argued that pursuant to Minn.Stat. § 169.1217, subd. 3 (1998), the city had "[a]ll right, title, and interest" in the vehicle from the moment of seizure and, as result, the city was responsible for the fees. Second, he argued that to hold him responsible for storage fees that total more than the value of his vehicle leads to an absurd result, and when interpreting statutes courts must presume the legislature did not intend an absurd result. Third, Genin asserted that the legislature intended, as evidenced by section 169.1217, subd. 7a(g) (1998), to "make a party whole after they prevail in a forfeiture action."

The district court held that, under section 169.1217, Genin was responsible for the storage fees. The court of appeals affirmed the district court's decision and agreed with the district court's analysis in all respects. Genin v.1996 Mercury Marquis, VIN # 2MEBP95F9CX644211, License No. MN 225 NSG, 609 N.W.2d 266, 267, 269-70 (Minn.App.2000). Genin then appealed to this court.

The question presented by this appeal, who is responsible for storage fees under Minn.Stat. § 169.1217 when the district court dismisses a forfeiture complaint and orders a vehicle to be returned to its owner, is one of statutory construction. Our review, therefore, is de novo. State v. Loge, 608 N.W.2d 152, 155 (Minn.2000). The goal of statutory construction is to ascertain and effectuate the legislature's intent. Id. The rules of construction forbid adding words or meaning to a statute that were intentionally or inadvertently left out. Phelps v. Commonwealth Land Title Ins. Co., 537 N.W.2d 271, 274 (Minn. 1995). When a question of statutory construction involves a failure of expression rather than an ambiguity of expression, "courts are not free to substitute amendment for construction and thereby supply the omissions of the legislature." State v. Moseng, 254 Minn. 263, 269, 95 N.W.2d 6, 11-12 (1959).

We begin our analysis by reviewing the content and framework of Minn.Stat. § 169.1217. Under that statute, a motor vehicle is subject to forfeiture if it is used in the commission of certain designated offenses, or is used in conduct resulting in a designated license revocation. Minn. Stat. § 169.1217, subd. 6.3 The police may seize a vehicle incident to lawful arrest for such an offense. Id. subd. 2(1) (1998).4 "[U]pon commission of the conduct resulting in the designated offense or designated license revocation," the appropriate municipality or arresting agency immediately obtains "[a]ll right, title, and interest in a vehicle subject to forfeiture." Id. subd. 3.

Minnesota Statutes § 169.1217, subd. 7a (1998), pursuant to which Genin's vehicle was initially seized, provides a procedure for administrative forfeiture. Under that subdivision, police may seize a vehicle immediately upon arrest for a designated offense and must then provide the vehicle owner with a detailed notice explaining that they intend to seek forfeiture of the vehicle. Id. subds. 7a(b)-(c) (1998); see id. subd. 2 (1998). The owner may file a demand for a judicial forfeiture determination within 30 days following service of the forfeiture notice. Id. subd. 7a(d) (1998). The statute also contains a provision permitting a judicial forfeiture procedure. Id. subd. 8. In that case, a separate complaint must be filed against the vehicle. Id. subd. 8(b) (1998).

A vehicle owner may seek possession of the vehicle before the forfeiture proceeding by giving security or posting a bond payable to the appropriate agency.5 Id. subd. 4 (1998). If returned before the forfeiture proceeding, the vehicle is to be equipped with a disabling device. Id. In order to regain possession of the vehicle, the owner must put up security or post a bond equal to the retail value of the vehicle. Id. However, the appropriate agency has discretion to return or withhold the vehicle. Id. The statute provides no guidance to the agency about when to exercise its discretion to return the vehicle. Id. Similarly, if the agency retains the vehicle, it has unrestricted discretion about where to store the vehicle. See id. subds. 3 and 3(2) (1998) ("When a vehicle is so seized, the appropriate agency may * * * remove the vehicle to a place designated by it * * *.").

If, during a forfeiture proceeding, the district court determines that forfeiture is not permitted, the statute requires that the court order the vehicle returned to its owner. See id. subds. 7a(g) and 8(b). The statute is silent as to who bears responsibility for any accrued storage fees when the owner prevails at a forfeiture proceeding. The statute does, however, address payment of storage fees when the owner does not prevail and the vehicle is sold.6 The proceeds of a forfeiture sale must go to, among other things, payment of storage expenses. Id. subd. 9 (1998).

In contrast to section 169.1217, another DWI-related statute does address the responsibility for storage fees. Under Minn.Stat. § 169.1216 (1998), the police may impound a vehicle that they have seized following the arrest of a driver for driving under the influence of alcohol or some other designated substance. When a vehicle is impounded pursuant to section 169.1216, no "law enforcement agency, local unit of government, or state agency is responsible or financially liable for any storage fees incurred." Id. § 169.1216, subd. 4 (1998). In Genin's case, the police seized his vehicle pursuant to section 169.1217, the forfeiture statute, and section 169.1216 was never triggered.

The legislature enacted Minn. Stat. § 169.1216 at the same time that it enacted section 169.1217, and both provisions derived from the same bill. See Act of Apr. 29, 1992, ch. 570, §§ 14 and 15, 1992 Minn. Laws 1944, 1952. That section 169.1216 contains this storage fee provision demonstrates that the legislature contemplated the issue of storage fees when it drafted these two statutes, but affirmatively...

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