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Nies v. Affluent Funding, Inc.

Florida Court of Appeals, Fifth District

October 11, 2019

BRIAN NIES, Appellant,
v.
AFFLUENT FUNDING, INC., Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Osceola County, Mike Murphy, Judge.

          James Ippoliti and Scott Widerman, of Widerman Malek, P.L., Celebration, for Appellant.

          Eric C. Reed and Maureen K. Rogers, of Shutts & Bowen, LLP, Orlando, for Appellee.

          OPINION

          WALLIS, J.

         Appellant, Brian Nies, appeals the final judgment entered in favor of Affluent Funding, Inc. (AFI), on his claims for conversion and civil theft, after AFI sold a Ferrari racecar that Appellant claimed he partially owned. Because competent, substantial evidence supports the trial court's findings on the civil theft claim, we affirm the court's ruling in that respect without further comment.[1] However, because the court erred in finding that Appellant did not have an ownership interest in the Ferrari, we reverse the portion of the final judgment finding that AFI was entitled to judgment on the conversion claim and remand for further proceedings.[2]

         The Ferrari at issue here was originally titled in Oregon. The Oregon owner sold the Ferrari to William Paedae, and Paedae subsequently sold an interest in the Ferrari to Appellant. Several years later and without Appellant's knowledge, Paedae used the Ferrari as collateral for a loan that his company entered into with AFI. After Paedae's company defaulted on the loan, AFI attempted to sell the Ferrari. Appellant informed AFI that he had a 50% ownership interest in the Ferrari and provided AFI with the bill of sale showing that he purchased an ownership interest in the Ferrari from Paedae. Despite this knowledge, AFI sold the Ferrari to a third party.

         As a result of these events, Appellant sued AFI for conversion and civil theft. At the bench trial, there was evidence that Appellant paid Paedae $30, 000 in cash and that both parties signed a bill of sale in exchange for Appellant receiving a 50% interest in the Ferrari. In addition, the undisputed evidence established that the Ferrari was never used on the roads of Florida.

         The trial court concluded that Appellant failed to prove conversion or civil theft because he failed to establish that he owned the Ferrari. The trial court reasoned that there was no evidence that the Ferrari was titled in Florida. Specifically, the only title was from Oregon and the parties' names were not on the Oregon title. The trial court acknowledged that the Ferrari was never driven on the streets of Florida after 2006 and, therefore, Appellant was not required to register it here. The trial court found, however, that pursuant to section 319.21(3), Florida Statutes, Appellant was required to obtain a certificate of title listing both his and Paedae's names when he purchased his interest in the Ferrari. The trial court concluded that if Appellant had followed these statutory requirements, his rights would have been protected. While the trial court acknowledged that Appellant purchased 50% of Paedae's interest in the Ferrari, it found that car titles determine ownership in Florida and that a bill of sale, without a transfer in title, is insufficient to establish an ownership interest in Florida. As a result, the trial court entered final judgment in favor of AFI and against Appellant.

         On appeal, Appellant argues that the trial court erred in finding that sections 319.20, 319.21 and 319.22, Florida Statutes, are applicable here because the Ferrari was not driven on Florida roads. He further argues that the trial court erred in finding that he failed to establish that he owned an interest in the Ferrari because he never obtained a Florida title. We agree.[3]

         Section 320.02(1) states that "[e]xcept as otherwise provided in this chapter, every owner or person in charge of a motor vehicle that is operated or driven on the roads of this state shall register the vehicle in this state." Because, as the trial court specifically found, the Ferrari was never driven on the roads of Florida, under the plain language of section 320.02(1), Appellant was not required to register the Ferrari in Florida. The trial court recognized this fact in its final judgment but concluded that a motor vehicle must still be titled in Florida if it was purchased in Florida or is used for more than temporary use. This was error.

         Section 319.21(3) provides that "no person shall sell or otherwise dispose of a motor vehicle . . . without delivering to the purchaser or transferee thereof a certificate of title" and that "[n]o person shall purchase or otherwise acquire or bring into the state a motor vehicle . . . except for a surviving spouse . . . or except for temporary use, unless such person obtains a certificate of title for it in his or her name." However, section 319.20 specifically states that "this chapter applies exclusively to motor vehicles and mobile homes required to be registered and licensed under the laws of this state and defined by such registration laws." (emphasis added). Thus, a party purchasing a motor vehicle is only required to comply with section 319.21(3) and obtain title if the motor vehicle is "required to be registered and licensed" in Florida. Because Appellant was not required to register the Ferrari, he was not obligated to comply with the title requirements of chapter 319 when he purchased an interest in the Ferrari. See § 319.20, Fla. Stat. Accordingly, the trial court erred in applying chapter 319 to this case.

         As a result of the erroneous application of chapter 319, the trial court mistakenly found that Appellant failed to establish ownership. However, contrary to the trial court's finding, Appellant proved at trial that he had an ownership interest in the Ferrari. The undisputed evidence established that Appellant and Paedae signed the bill of sale, which described the Ferrari, the ownership interest that was being sold, the amount of money Appellant was required to pay Paedae, and other relevant terms of the agreement. This writing was sufficient to transfer an ownership interest in the Ferrari to Appellant. See § 672.201(1), Fla. Stat. (2018). The evidence also established that Appellant paid Paedae $30, 000 in cash, and the parties shared use of the Ferrari for years before it was sold. When taken together, this evidence was sufficient to prove that Appellant owned 50% of the Ferrari. See McAfee v. Killingsworth, 98 So.2d 738, 740 (Fla. 1957).

         Because the trial court erred in applying chapters 319 and 320 to this case and in concluding that Appellant did not prove ownership of the Ferrari, we reverse the final judgment in favor of AFI on the conversion claim. On remand, the trial court shall reconsider ...


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