BMV’s ‘Barney Fife’ argument wins in hurricane-damaged car title suit

Mayberry justice prevailed on appeal in a Morgan County case over whether vehicles damaged by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and declared junk by the state of Texas ought to be issued titles in Indiana.

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed orders from the Morgan Superior Court requiring the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles to issue salvage titles for two storm-damaged vehicles purchased by Majestic Auto Body in Quincy.

Majestic owner Mark Shumaker had petitioned the court first for clean titles and later for salvage titles for a 2013 Dodge minivan and a 2014 Dodge Ram truck that had been issued junk salvage titles after the state of Texas found them only suitable for scrap. But after Majestic produced Indiana State Police inspections of the vehicles giving them clean bills of health, the trial court held a hearing at which the BMV was not present because its attorney had not been noticed, and on the same day issued nunc pro tunc orders requiring BMV to issue salvage titles on the vehicles.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Wednesday, vacating the orders and doting on the BMV’s citing to a classic TV show to make its case.

“We commend the State for taping (sic) into its creative juices and comparing this case to the classic episode of Barney’s First Car in The Andy Griffith show,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote in a footnote in Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles v. Majestic Auto Body18A-SC-2524. “In that episode, the lovable Barney Fife empties his life savings to purchase his first car, a 1954 Ford. The seller purports to be an elderly widow struggling to part with her late husband’s vehicle, but unbeknownst to Barney Fife, the seller is a member of a gang that dishonestly sells stolen old vehicles as good-condition cars.

“The State argues that to prevent Hoosiers from finding themselves in Barney Fife’s shoes, the General Assembly enacted Ind. Code § 9-22-3-18, and that the aim of the statute is to ensure Indiana citizens are not duped into buying vehicles that have been declared as junk by other states.”

  The panel reversed the trial court’s partial denial of relief under Trial Rule 60(B), noting the Morgan Superior Court wrongly conflated Texas’ and Indiana’s salvage title terms.

“The trial court reasoned that, because Texas had issued salvage titles to the vehicles, they should therefore receive similar titles in Indiana. However, under the plain and unambiguous terms of Indiana Code section 9-22-3-18, Majestic’s vehicles cannot be titled in Indiana since Texas had designated them as junk vehicles,” Riley wrote.

“Since the titling of vehicles that have been designated as junk by another state is not authorized by statute, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion by not granting BMV full relief to its motion for relief. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s nunc pro tunc orders requiring BMV to issue salvage titles to Majestic’s 2013 Dodge minivan and 2014 RAM truck.”

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