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Nielsen v. 2003 Honda Accord

Supreme Court of Minnesota

December 26, 2013

Matthew Roy Nielsen, Appellant,
v.
2003 Honda Accord, Respondent.

Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

Kirk M. Anderson, Anderson Law Firm, PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.

Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Daniel P. Rogan, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondent.

John E. Mack, Mack & Daby, P.A., New London, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Office of the Public Defender for the Eighth Judicial District.

SYLLABUS

1. The motor vehicle exemption in Minn. Stat. § 550.37, subd. 12A (2012), does not, as a matter of statutory interpretation, apply when a motor vehicle is subject to forfeiture under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 (2012).

2. The forfeiture of a motor vehicle under Minn. Stat. § 169A.63, without the application of the motor vehicle exemption in Minn. Stat. § 550.37, subd. 12a, does not violate Minn. Const. art. I, § 12.

OPINION

WRIGHT, Justice.

The question presented by this case is whether the motor vehicle exemption, Minn. Stat. § 550.37, subd. 12a (2012), applies to the forfeiture of a motor vehicle used in the commission of a designated driving-while-impaired (DWI) offense, pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 (2012). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Hennepin County on behalf of respondent vehicle and held that the motor vehicle exemption does not apply when a motor vehicle is forfeited under section 169A.63. The court of appeals affirmed. Appellant Matthew Nielsen asserts that both the motor vehicle exemption and Article I, Section 12, of the Minnesota Constitution apply to forfeiture under section 169A.63. Because we conclude that neither section 550.37, subdivision 12a, nor Article I, Section 12, applies to DWI forfeiture pursuant to section 169A.63, we affirm.

On April 11, 2011, a law enforcement officer stopped Nielsen after observing him drive in the wrong direction on a one-way street. Nielsen showed signs of intoxication and "registered [a] .282 blood alcohol concentration on a preliminary breath test." Nielsen was arrested and charged with first-degree driving while impaired. Minn. Stat.§§ 169A.20, 169A.24 (2012). Nielsen subsequently pleaded guilty to the charged offense.

At the time of his arrest, Nielsen received a notice advising him of the County's intent to administratively forfeit his vehicle pursuant to section 169A.63. He sought a judicial determination of the forfeiture of his vehicle in conciliation court. Nielsen argued that he was entitled to receive a portion of the value of the forfeited vehicle under the motor vehicle exemption, section 550.37, subdivision 12a. The conciliation court agreed and entered judgment in favor of Nielsen in the amount of the motor vehicle exemption. The County removed the case to the district court after which the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Concluding that the motor vehicle exemption in section 550.37, subdivision 12a, does not apply when a motor vehicle is forfeited under section 169A.63, the district court awarded judgment in favor of the County.

Nielsen appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed the district court. Nielsen v. 2003 Honda Accord, 823 N.W.2d 347, 348 (Minn.App. 2012). The court of appeals first held that Article I, Section 12, of the Minnesota Constitution does not require application of the motor vehicle exemption when a vehicle used in the commission of a designated DWI offense is forfeited. Nielsen, 823 N.W.2d at 350. Without deciding whether the two statutes are actually in conflict, the court of appeals then concluded that the DWI forfeiture provision, section 169A.63, is the more recently enacted statute and therefore prevails over the motor vehicle exemption statute, section 550.37, subdivision 12a. Nielsen, 823 N.W.2d at 350-51.

I.

Nielsen advances two legal theories in opposition to the DWI forfeiture of his motor vehicle. First, Nielsen argues that, because the motor vehicle exemption in section 550.37, subdivision 12a, was enacted pursuant to Article I, Section 12, of the Minnesota Constitution, the owner of a motor vehicle is entitled to receive the exemption amount when the motor vehicle is forfeited under section 169A.63. Alternatively, Nielsen contends that the motor vehicle exemption applies in a DWI forfeiture proceeding as a matter of statutory interpretation because section 550.37, subdivision 12a, creates an exemption from forfeiture that does not conflict with the DWI forfeiture statute. According to Nielsen, if the value of the vehicle or the owner's equity interest in the vehicle is greater than the value of the exemption established in section 550.37, subdivision 12a, the County is entitled to forfeit the value of the property over the exemption ...


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