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Briles v. 2013 GMC Terrain

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

March 13, 2017

Russell Eldon Briles, Appellant,
2013 GMC Terrain, MN License Number: 168KSE, VIN: 2GKFLZE3XD6336507, Respondent.

         Scott County District Court File No. 70-CV-15-24105

          James M. Ventura, Wayzata, Minnesota (for appellant).

          Ronald Hocevar, Scott County Attorney, Todd P. Zettler, Assistant County Attorney, Shakopee, Minnesota (for respondent).

          Considered and decided by Jesson, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Schellhas, Judge.


         1. An owner who claims that his vehicle is not subject to forfeiture under Minnesota Statutes section 169A.63 (2016) because the offense prompting the vehicle's seizure occurred after the vehicle was stolen or taken in violation of law, forfeits that claim unless he raises it in a timely civil complaint demanding a judicial determination of the forfeiture's validity.

         2. The phrase "[a]ll right, title, and interest" in a vehicle subject to forfeiture under Minnesota Statutes section 169A.63, subdivision 3, does not include the right to insurance proceeds arising from a crash.


          ROSS, Judge.

         Savage Police arrested Russell Briles's drunk son after he crashed and totaled Briles's GMC Terrain sport utility vehicle. The police department seized the vehicle and notified Briles of its intent to forfeit it under the impaired-driver forfeiture statute, Minnesota Statutes section 169A.63. Briles had no intent to recover the totaled, seized wreck, planning instead to recover on his automobile insurance policy. But unbeknownst to Briles, the police department's attorney told his insurer to hold any insurance proceeds and implied that the department had the right to them. Briles discovered the city's representation to his insurer only after the statutory 60-day deadline for his right to file a civil complaint to challenge the forfeiture. Briles filed a demand for judicial determination anyway, arguing that the GMC had been improperly seized and that insurance proceeds are not forfeitable under the statute. The district court rejected his filing as untimely based on its conclusion that the police department had the right to any insurance proceeds. Because Briles filed his demand for judicial determination of the vehicle forfeiture after the statutory deadline, we affirm in part. But because the statute authorizes only the forfeiture of a person's possessory and ownership interests in a seized vehicle, not that person's insurance contract rights, we reverse in part.


         Russell Briles's son Andrew went on a joyride in Briles's 2013 GMC Terrain, without Briles's permission, while Briles and his wife were away on a camping trip in September 2015. Savage Police observed the GMC speeding, and Andrew led police on a high-speed chase until he lost control and crashed the car. Police removed him from the car, obviously intoxicated, and he eventually completed a breath test revealing a 0.22 alcohol concentration. The state charged him with fleeing police, second-degree impaired driving, and driving after his license had been cancelled. He had five previous alcohol-related driving convictions or license revocations.

         Andrew told police that he had never previously driven the GMC and that he did not have Briles's permission to drive it. Police called Briles that same day. He likewise told police that the GMC belonged to him, not to Andrew, and that Andrew had no permission to drive the GMC or any other car. The officer told Briles that the vehicle was being held for forfeiture and that a certified letter declaring that had already been sent. A transcript of that telephone discussion reveals that the officer never discussed insurance coverage or mentioned any interest in insurance proceeds.

         On September 25, 2015, Briles received by certified mail the formal "Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit Vehicle / Property, " identifying Briles's GMC and stating, "This property is subject to forfeiture because it was used to commit: Impaired Driving - MS § 169A.63." Minnesota Statutes section 169A.63 is the impaired-driving forfeiture statute. The notice also stated, "You will automatically lose the above-described property and the right to be heard in court if you do not file a lawsuit and serve the prosecuting authority within 60 days, " and, "Forfeiture of the property is automatic unless within 60 days following service of this Notice of Seizure, you, or any person who has a legal interest in the property, file a demand for a determination by a judge." The notice said nothing about the department's plan to seize or forfeit any insurance proceeds related to the crash.

         On the same day that Briles received the written forfeiture notice, an assistant Scott County attorney sent a letter to Briles's insurance carrier, Progressive Insurance. The letter notified Progressive of the police department's forfeiture interest in Briles's GMC, and, citing Schug v. $9, 916.50 in U.S. Currency, 669 N.W.2d 379 (Minn.App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Dec. 16, 2003), urged Progressive not to disburse any insurance proceeds until the forfeiture was resolved. The attorney did not copy Briles on this letter to his insurer. Briles did not learn about the letter until early December 2015. But this was after the statutory 60-day filing deadline to challenge the forfeiture and after the county ...

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