Jones v. Pierce, H002868

Decision Date17 March 1988
Docket NumberNo. H002868,H002868
Citation245 Cal.Rptr. 149,199 Cal.App.3d 736
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesArthur JONES, et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. A.A. PIERCE, as Director, etc., Defendant and Appellant.
Steven F. Romberg, Monterey, for plaintiffs and appellants

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Mary C. Michel, Supervising Deputy Atty. Gen., Susan K. Meadows, Deputy Atty. Gen., San Francisco, for defendant and appellant.

ZECHER, Associate Justice. *

We must determine in this case whether a vehicle owned by a California resident which is registered and based in another state must also be registered in California even if the vehicle is not primarily driven on California highways. We conclude California registration is not required in these circumstances and affirm the judgment. 1

FACTS

The essential facts are undisputed. 2 Plaintiffs Arthur and Isabell Jones were residents of California in 1985 and 1986. Plaintiffs--who live in Pebble Beach--also own property in Gold Hill, Oregon. In May of 1985, plaintiffs purchased a motorhome in San Jose, California, and arranged to take delivery of the vehicle in Oregon. They did this in order to avoid paying California fees and taxes since they intended to base the motorhome on their Oregon property and to use it as a temporary shelter while their home was being built on that property. 3 The motorhome was properly licensed in Oregon. Mr. Jones planned to retire shortly after he purchased the motorhome, and plaintiffs intended to move to Oregon sometime after Mr. Jones' retirement.

Mr. Jones did retire in July of 1985, and plaintiffs took two driving vacations in their motorhome later that summer. In August of 1985, plaintiffs drove their motorhome, which was stored at their Oregon property, from Oregon to Colorado and back. Plaintiffs did not enter California on this trip. In September, plaintiffs took a second trip. This time they went from Oregon, through California, to Arizona, and then back through Nevada to Oregon. Plaintiffs drove the motorhome approximately 6,700 miles on these two trips. Approximately 1,200 to 1,500 of those miles were driven in California.

On September 1, 1985, California Highway Patrol Officer Burke observed plaintiffs as they were driving near San Ramon during their second vacation trip. He noted the Oregon plates on the motorhome and filed a "Resident Registration Violation Follow-Up" form with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV determined that plaintiffs were in fact California residents and sent them a letter demanding that they register the motorhome and pay estimated fees of $700.

Plaintiffs objected to the fees, and a hearing was held before a DMV referee. The referee determined that registration fees were due on the motorhome for the 1985/1986 and 1986/1987 registration years. The referee also determined that a "use tax" of $4,965 was due because plaintiffs had driven the motorhome into California within 90 days of taking delivery in Oregon. Plaintiffs then made an informal appeal to the Chief of DMV Headquarters Operations. The Chief of Headquarters Operations modified the referee's decision by striking the use tax. 4 Nevertheless, he concluded that California residents must register their vehicles if they are operated Plaintiffs filed a petition for writ of mandate in the superior court seeking judicial review of this administrative decision. In the trial court, plaintiffs argued they were exempt from registration under Vehicle Code section 4000.4, which states in part that a "vehicle which is based in California or which primarily uses California highways shall be registered in California." By inference, plaintiffs argued that a vehicle which is not based in California and does not primarily use California highways need not be registered in this state. The trial court agreed with this reasoning and found: (1) plaintiffs are California residents; (2) their motorhome was licensed and registered in Oregon; (3) the motorhome is not based in California; and (4) the motorhome is not primarily used on California highways. Since the trial court determined registration is required only when the vehicle is based in California or primarily uses California highways, it concluded plaintiffs were not required to register their motorhome in California. Accordingly, the court issued a writ of mandate setting aside the DMV's decision but denying plaintiffs' request for attorney fees under Government Code section 800.

to any extent in California, even if the vehicles are not based or primarily used in California. Accordingly, plaintiffs were assessed a total of $3,774 for registration, license, and penalties for the 1985/1986 and 1986/1987 registration years.

DISCUSSION

The DMV and plaintiffs urge two diametrically opposed constructions of the statutes requiring registration of vehicles in California. On the one hand, the DMV contends California residents are required to obtain California registration for vehicles they own if those vehicles are driven on California highways to any extent, even if the vehicle is based and primarily used in another state. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, contend California residents are required to obtain California registration for vehicles they own only if the vehicle is based or primarily used in California. (See Veh. Code, § 4000.4.) 5

Questions of statutory interpretation are, of course, pure matters of law upon which we may exercise our independent judgment. (Gibbons & Reed Co. v. Dept. of Motor Vehicles (1963) 220 Cal.App.2d 277, 285, 33 Cal.Rptr. 688, 33 Cal.Rptr. 927; Public Utilities Com. v. Energy Resources Conservation and Dev. Com. (1984) 150 Cal.App.3d 437, 443, 197 Cal.Rptr. 866.) Our purpose in interpreting statutes is to discern the intent of the Legislature. (Milligan v. City of Laguna Beach (1983) 34 Cal.3d 829, 831, 196 Cal.Rptr. 38, 670 P.2d 1121.)

We begin our analysis with California's basic, broadly inclusive, registration statute: section 4000, subdivision (a), of the Vehicle Code. This statute provides in pertinent part that: "No person shall drive, move, or leave standing upon a highway, or in an offstreet public parking facility, any motor vehicle ... unless it is registered and the appropriate fees have been paid under this code...." The cases interpreting this statute indicate that motor vehicles 6 used on California highways must be registered unless they fall within an exception to the registration requirement. (See California Packing Corp. v. Transport Indem. Co. (1969) 275 Cal.App.2d 363, 367-368, 80 Cal.Rptr. 150 [interpreting § 4013, exemption for forklift trucks]; Gibbons & Reed Co. v. Dept. of Motor Vehicles, supra, 220 Cal.App.2d at p. 282, 33 Cal.Rptr. 688, 33 Cal.Rptr. 927 [interpreting § 4010 (formerly § 142), exemption for special construction equipment]; Yosemite Park & Curry Co. v. Dept. of Motor Vehicles (1960) 177 Cal.App.2d 448, 451, 455, 2 Cal.Rptr. 431 [interpreting § 4000, subd. (a)'s predecessor statute (§ 140) as referring to state maintained and controlled highways only]; see also, 42 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 129, 130 (1963).)

Plaintiffs contend their motorhome is exempt from the registration requirement because We believe section 4000.4 effectively modifies section 4000, subdivision (a). "[A] special statute dealing with a particular subject constitutes an exception so as to control and take precedence over a conflicting general statute on the same subject. (Agricultural Labor Relations Bd. v. Superior Court (1976) 16 Cal.3d 392, 420 [128 Cal.Rptr. 183, 546 P.2d 687]....) This is the case ... notwithstanding that the general provision, standing alone, would be broad enough to include the subject to which the more particular one relates. [Citation.]" (Conservatorship of Ivey (1986) 186 Cal.App.3d 1559, 1565, 231 Cal.Rptr. 376; see also People v. Gilbert (1969) 1 Cal.3d 475, 479, 82 Cal.Rptr. 724, 462 P.2d 580.) Thus, on its face, section 4000.4--as a later enacted special statute--appears to limit the more general provisions of section 4000, subdivision (a).

of section 4000.4, which was enacted 24 years after section 4000, subd. (a). (Stats.1959, ch. 3, § 2, p. 1554; Stats.1983, [199 Cal.App.3d 742] ch. 409, § 3, p. 1687.) Section 4000.4 provides: "(a) Except as provided in Sections 6700, 6702, and 6703, a vehicle which is based in California or which primarily uses California highways shall be registered in California. [p ] (b) For purposes of this section and Section 6700, a vehicle is deemed to be primarily or regularly used on the highways of this state if the vehicle is located or operated in this state for a greater amount of time than it is located or operated in any other individual state during the registration period in question."

The DMV contends, however, that section 4000.4 applies to vehicles owned by nonresidents only, and that the registration of motor vehicles owned by California residents is controlled by section 4000, subdivision (a), which requires only that the vehicle be driven, moved, or left standing on a California highway. The Legislature's express declaration of statutory intent, and the consequences of accepting the DMV's interpretation of the law, convince us that section 4000.4 should be applied to residents and nonresidents alike.

Section 4000.4 was added to the Vehicle Code effective in 1984 by Senate Bill No. 581, which contained several new statutes designed to prevent registration abuse by persons who live in California and regularly drive on California highways. (Stats.1983, ch. 409.) The preamble to the bill expressly described the problem the Legislature was hoping to solve: "The Legislature finds and declares that numerous residents of California and others living in the state operate vehicles that are based in California, but are registered with foreign license plates. These vehicles and their operators regularly use the highways of California, but do not contribute their...

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