Sibley County District Court File No. C2-00-128
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and
1. When the seller and the buyer of a motor vehicle agree that ownership of the vehicle will not transfer until it is paid for, the buyer's unlawful act before paying for the vehicle will not subject the vehicle to statutory forfeiture.
2. Prejudgment interest may be awarded in proceedings conducted under Minn. Stat. §á609.5313 (2002).
3. A district court does not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney fees against a party after finding that the party unreasonably pursued its interest in property not subject to forfeiture.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harten, Judge
Appellant county challenges the district court's determination that a vehicle it seized was not subject to statutory forfeiture and the awards of interest and attorney fees to respondent, the vehicle's owner.
On 9 March 2000, Erik Tharaldson contracted with respondent, Wolf Motor Co., Inc. (Wolf) to purchase a 2000 Ford F-350 pickup truck. Tharaldson paid for the truck with a personal check for $36,155.92 and took possession of the truck the next day. Wolf's sales manager later testified that the sale was contingent on Tharaldson's obtaining financing to cover his check.
On 11 March, police stopped Tharaldson as he was driving the truck. They discovered 0.6 gram of methamphetamine inside the truck and arrested Tharaldson for a controlled substance crime. The following day, Tharaldson was served with a notice of seizure and intent to forfeit the property. Because Wolf was waiting for Tharaldson's check to clear, it had not yet transferred title to the truck; Wolf did not receive a notice of the forfeiture proceeding.
On 13 March, a state trooper visited the Wolf dealership to inquire about the sale of the truck. Wolf showed the trooper all the paper work, including the title*fn2 in Wolf's name and Tharaldson's uncashed check. Wolf's sales representatives later testified that the trooper told them that it would be in their "best interests" to get the title transferred but would not tell them why. As the trooper advised, Wolf filed a transfer of title. On 16áMarch, Wolf learned that payment on Tharaldson's check had been stopped.
Wolf petitioned for judicial determination of forfeiture, asking that the truck be returned. Following a bench trial, the district court found that Wolf had filed the transfer of title of the truck based on the recommendation of the state trooper, that Tharaldson's personal check never cleared, and that transfer of the title from Wolf to Tharaldson was conditioned on the check being honored. Concluding that "if the actions taken by [the county] * * * were to result in the county obtaining title to the truck, Wolf would be unfairly harmed and the county unfairly benefited," the district court ordered that the truck, or its value of $36,155.92, be returned to ...