Cynthia Jo Neumayer, petitioner, Respondent, vs. Commissioner of Public Safety, Appellant.
This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Cynthia Jo Neumayer,
Commissioner of Public Safety,
Filed July 31, 2001
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C8003468
Shawn Michael Betts, 400 Executive Office Center, 2785 White Bear Avenue, Maplewood, MN 55109 (for respondent)
Shari A. Jacobus, Carol A. Baldwin, Jensen, Bell, Converse & Erickson, P.A., 1500 Minnesota World Trade Center, 30 East Seventh Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Foley, Judge.U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Commissioner of Public Safety contends that the district court erred in finding that the vehicle was not forfeitable because the court (1) erroneously required the commissioner to prove that respondent Cynthia Neumayer, the owner of the vehicle, had actual instead of constructive knowledge of her husband's driving the vehicle while intoxicated; (2) failed to find respondent should have known of the unlawful use; (3) failed to find respondent did not take reasonable steps to prevent the illegal use of the vehicle; and (4) failed to find respondent's husband was the actual owner of the vehicle. Because the district court correctly applied the law, we affirm.
The parties stipulated that respondent is the registered owner of the Mercury Mountaineer that Ramsey County seized in March 2000, following the arrest of respondent's husband. Respondent's husband was arrested for driving the vehicle under the influence of alcohol in violation of a restriction on his driver's license that prohibited consumption of alcohol. After a bench trial, the district court found that respondent "had no knowledge of her husband's actions" on the day of his arrest, "did not consent to the actions of her husband" on that day, and "did not know the whereabouts of her husband for several days following his arrest." The court concluded that respondent "is an owner per the statute," the forfeiture "violates [Minn. Stat. §] 169.1217," and ordered that the vehicle "be returned to [respondent] immediately."D E C I S I O N
Appellant contends that the district court erred in concluding that the vehicle was not subject to forfeiture.
The decision of a district court should not be reversed merely because the appellate court views the evidence differently. Rather, the findings must be manifestly contrary to the weight of the evidence or not reasonably supported by the evidence as a whole. * * * [F]indings of fact are clearly erroneous only if the reviewing court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. If there is reasonable evidence to support the district court's findings, we will not disturb them.
Rogers v. Moore, 603 N.W.2d 650, 656 (Minn. 1999) (quotations and citations omitted).
Minn. Stat. § 169.1217 (1998) subjects a vehicle to forfeiture if the vehicle "was used in the commission of a designated offense or was used in conduct resulting in a designated license revocation." Id., subd. 6. Appellant contends the court erred in (a) determining that respondent was the owner; (b) failing to find that respondent should have known of the unlawful use; and (c) failing to find that respondent did not take reasonable steps to prevent the illegal use of the vehicle.
1. Vehicle Ownership
The court found that respondent owned the vehicle. When the owner of the vehicle is not the one who committed the offense, the statute limits the state's power to retain the vehicle to circumstances where the "owner knew or should have known of the unlawful use or intended use." Id., subd. 7(d). "Owner' means the registered owner of the motor vehicle according to records of the department of public safety * * *." Id., subd. 1(e). The court did not err in finding that respondent owned the vehicle because the parties stipulated that respondent is the titled owner.
Appellant contends, however, that the court should have found that respondent's husband was the de facto owner of the vehicle because, although they had two cars, he drove the Mountaineer to work and could not drive the other car. As respondent noted, this court has construed the ownership provision of Minn. Stat. § 169.1217 and found that the titled owner is the owner for purposes of this statute. City of New Brighton v. 2000 Ford Excursion, 622 N.W.2d 364, 372-73 (Minn. App. 2001) (noting that forfeiture statutes differ and that Minn. Stat. § 609.531 designates the registered owner as an "alleged owner" only, but that a registered owner is the owner for the purposes of Minn. Stat. § 169.1217), review denied (Minn. Apr. 17, 2001). We decline to adopt a new ownership test.
2. Should-Have-Known Standard
Appellant contends that the district court erred in failing to find that respondent should have known of her husband's illegal use of the vehicle. The trial court quoted the "knew or should have known" portion of the statute and found forfeiture inappropriate. Respondent knew of her husband's problems with alcohol and knew that he had a restricted license, but did not know that he had resumed drinking and driving. The court found that although respondent's husband was cited in July 1999 for improper lane usage, she had no knowledge of the offense because she was out of town at the time and her husband never told her about it. Thus, respondent would have had no reason to know that her husband used the vehicle for purposes other than driving to and from work or that he was likely to use the vehicle illegally. Moreover, the court found that respondent had no knowledge of her husband's use of the vehicle or his condition on March 15, 2000, when he was arrested and the county seized the vehicle. We find no error and no need for a more specific finding.
3. Failure to Take Reasonable Steps
Appellant next contends that the court erred in failing to find that respondent did not take reasonable steps to prevent her husband's illegal use of the vehicle. Appellant did not provide any authority that creates such a duty, and we find none. As stated earlier, we are constrained by our role as an error-correcting court and decline to create a duty for these circumstances.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
 Repealed, recodified, and amended at Minn. Stat. § 169A.63 (2000), effective January 1, 2001.