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Circuit certifies question for Supreme Court

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded an Indiana statute dealing with salvage titles is ambiguous and it should be up to the state's highest court to interpret it.

In Larry D. Storie v. Randy's Auto Sales, LLC, et al., No. 09-1675, the Circuit Court certified the question of whether an entity that buys and later sells a wrecked vehicle is required to apply for a salvage title under Indiana Code Section 9-22-3-11(e) when it no longer owns the vehicle when it receives the certificate of title.

U.S. District Judge William T. Lawrence of the Southern District of Indiana ruled no and granted summary judgment in favor of Randy's Auto Sales in Storie's lawsuit against the dealer. Judge Lawrence found a lack of continuing ownership absolved an acquiring person of any obligation to apply for a salvage title when it receives the certificate of title.

Storie bought a truck that had been involved in a fatal accident in 2003 in Indiana. St. Paul Mercury Insurance Co., the insurer of the truck, applied for a title as proof of ownership but didn't apply for a salvage title. The truck was sold several times - including by Randy's in Indiana - before St. Paul finally received the title. Storie purchased the truck from a truck center in Missouri. When Randy's received the title from St. Paul, it forwarded it on to the purchaser of the truck, which made its way to Storie.

When Storie learned the truck was involved in the fatal accident, he brought a suit against Randy's in federal court in the Southern District of Indiana. He believed Randy's violated I.C. Section 9-22-3-11(e), which says "Any other person acquiring a wrecked or damaged motor vehicle ... which acquisition is not evidenced by a certificate of salvage title, shall apply to the bureau within thirty-one (31) days after receipt of the certificate of title for a certificate of salvage title."

Circuit Judge Richard Cudahy noted the statute in question is "not a model of clarity" and competing interpretations of the statute means it's ambiguous. The Circuit Court ruled the present case turns on the meaning of the statute and certified the issue to the Indiana Supreme Court to interpret.

"Since we decline to follow (Riha v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co.) and (Storie v. Duckett Truck Center Inc.) and because we conclude that Randy's was properly subject to the provisions of the Indiana salvage title, the interpretation of Ind. Code § 9-22-3-11(e) is determinative of the present case," wrote Judge Cudahy. "Since there is no clear controlling Indiana precedent, it is appropriate to certify this issue to the Supreme Court of Indiana under both Indiana Rule of Appellate Procedure 64 and our Circuit Rule 52."

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