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White v. White

March 30, 2004

YVONNE H. WHITE, APPELLANT,
v.
GERALD WHITE, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



Hennepin County District Court File No. PI 02-015440

Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

When an owner of a motor vehicle is also the operator, there is no coverage for an injured third party under Minn. Stat. § 170.54 (2002), the Safety Responsibility Act, because the owner is the sole operator.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Huspeni, Judge*fn1

Affirmed

OPINION

In challenging the district court's grant of summary judgment, appellant argues that Minn. Stat. § 170.54 (2002), the Safety Responsibility Act, provides coverage to respondent granddaughter as operator of the vehicle in which appellant was injured, notwithstanding the fact that at the time of the injury respondent son, owner of the vehicle, was himself operating the vehicle. Because we conclude that respondent son was the sole operator of the vehicle at the time of the injury, Minn. Stat. § 170.54 is inapplicable under the facts of this case, and we affirm.

FACTS

Respondent Gerald White drove his mother, appellant Yvonne White, and his daughter, respondent Gina White, along with other family members, to purchase take-out food. Gerald parked his vehicle, and grandmother and granddaughter crossed the street to the restaurant. When the two returned to the vehicle, Gina, carrying the take-out food, entered the vehicle through the right rear passenger door. Yvonne opened the front passenger door and, in an attempt to avoid stepping into slush at the curb, placed her left-hand on the top part of the rear passenger door to brace herself. As she stepped on the running board of the vehicle in order to enter the front passenger seat, Gina closed the rear door on Yvonne's finger. The ring finger on Yvonne's left hand was severed.

Yvonne brought suit against Gerald and Gina, alleging that Gina was negligent in closing the rear passenger door and that Gerald, the owner of the vehicle, was vicariously liable under Minn. Stat. § 170.54 (2002), the Safety Responsibility Act, because Gina was operating the vehicle door with Gerald's express or implied consent. In granting respondents' motion for summary judgment, the district court concluded: (1) that Gina was not actively or inactively involved in loading or unloading Gerald's car of anything besides herself; (2) Gina was not in control of Gerald's vehicle at any time and therefore could not have been acting as Gerald's agent when she closed the rear door on Yvonne's finger; and (3) that Gina was not operating the vehicle under the Safety Responsibility Act. This appeal followed.

ISSUES

Did the district court err in concluding that Gina was not operating Gerald's motor vehicle under Minn. Stat. § 170.54 (2002), the Safety Responsibility Act?

ANALYSIS

When summary judgment is granted based on the application of a statute to undisputed facts, it is a legal determination that we review de novo. Wiegel v. City of St. Paul, 639 N.W.2d 378, 381 (Minn. 2002). To determine whether a statute has been correctly applied, this court focuses on the words of the statute to "ascertain and effectuate the intention of the legislature." Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (2002). If the statute's meaning is plain and unambiguous, that meaning is applied as a manifestation of legislative intent. Kersten v. Minn. Mut. Life Ins. Co., 608 N.W.2d 869, 874-75 (Minn. 2000). Plain meaning is the use of ordinary language in the context of whole-act structure, applying the usual conventions of grammar and syntax. Occhino v. Grover, 640 N.W.2d 357, 359 (Minn. App. 2002), review denied (Minn. May 28, 2002). If the meaning of statutory ...


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