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Noll v. Ritzer

Court of Appeals of Michigan

October 18, 2016

THOMAS LEON NOLL, Plaintiff-Appellee,
DAVID J. RITZER, doing business as STEVE'S AUTO PARTS, Defendant-Appellant.

         St Joseph Circuit Court LC No. 14-000755-AV

          Before: K. F. Kelly, P.J., and O'Connell and Boonstra, JJ.

          BOONSTRA, J.

         In this case regarding abandonment of a vehicle, defendant appeals as on leave granted[1]the circuit court's order affirming the district court's finding that plaintiff was not required to post a bond under MCL 257.252a in order to proceed with an abandoned vehicle hearing where plaintiff was not seeking release of the vehicle before the hearing. We reverse and remand, directing the circuit court to vacate the district court's order, and for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


         Plaintiff sold a motorcycle to a third party for cash, but failed to maintain documentation to prove that the sale had taken place. The third party was subsequently involved in an accident with the motorcycle that involved a fatality. At the direction of the Michigan State Police, defendant towed the motorcycle from the scene and then stored it for nearly a year while the police investigated the incident. The towing fee and storage fees of $35 per day charged by defendant during that time totaled over $11, 000.

         On May 8, 2014, plaintiff was sent a Notice of Abandoned Vehicle, which informed him that he was the title owner of the motorcycle that was taken into police custody as an abandoned vehicle. The Notice informed plaintiff that he could contest the determination that the vehicle was abandoned or the reasonableness of the towing and storage fees by completing an enclosed petition to request a hearing. Plaintiff submitted a petition requesting a hearing to challenge the reasonableness of the towing and storage fees pursuant to MCL 257.252a(6). The district court held a hearing regarding plaintiff's challenge even though plaintiff did not first post a bond with the court in the amount of $40 plus the accrued towing and storage fees. Relevant to this appeal, the district court noted that although "the letter of the law" required plaintiff to post a bond in the full amount of the towing and storage fees, the district court's practice was to not require the fees to be paid unless release of the vehicle was sought before the hearing. The district court thus held a hearing on plaintiff's petition and ultimately issued an order finding that the police had complied with the procedures for processing the vehicle, that defendant as a towing agency had complied with the procedures for proper removal of the vehicle, and that the towing and daily storage fees were reasonable; however, the district court held that defendant was limited to $1, 000 in damages due to limitations set by MCL 257.252i(2).[2] Defendant appealed the district court's decision to the circuit court. Relevant to this appeal, the circuit court found that the district court did not err in determining that a bond under MCL 257.252a was not required to be paid in order to proceed with the hearing on plaintiff's petition because plaintiff was not seeking a release of the vehicle, although it did find that the district court had erred in certain other respects not at issue in this appeal. This appeal followed.


         We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo. Feyz v Mercy Mem Hosp, 475 Mich. 663, 672; 719 N.W.2d 1 (2006). Our review of a circuit court's review of a district court's order is also de novo. See First of America Bank v Thompson, 217 Mich.App. 581, 584; 552 N.W.2d 516 (1996).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendant argues that the circuit court's affirmance of the district court's order was erroneous, because the district court held a hearing on plaintiff's petition in violation of the requirements of MCL 257.252a. We agree.

         The Michigan vehicle code prohibits the abandonment of vehicles and provides a statutory scheme for the removal and disposition of abandoned vehicles, as well as the processes by which a person may recover a vehicle or challenge the removal or seizure of the vehicle. See MCL 257.252a-m. In this case, plaintiff's vehicle was removed pursuant to MCL 257.252d(1)(e), which allows a police agency to provide for the "immediate removal of a vehicle from public or private property to a place of safekeeping at the expense of the last-titled owner of the vehicle" if "the vehicle must be seized to preserve evidence of a crime, or if there is reasonable cause to believe that the vehicle was used in the commission of a crime."

         Defendant asks this Court to interpret MCL 257.252a, as an issue of first impression, as it relates to the posting of a bond for towing and storage fees before a hearing. "The primary goal of statutory interpretation is to give effect to the Legislature's intent." Ford Motor Co v City of Woodhaven, 475 Mich. 425, 438; 716 N.W.2d 247 (2006). "If the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, the statute must be enforced as written and no further judicial construction is permitted." Whitman v City of Burton, 493 Mich. 303, 311; 831 N.W.2d 223 (2013). Judicial construction of a statute is only permitted when statutory language is ambiguous. Id. at 312. A statute is not considered ambiguous simply because reasonable minds could differ regarding the meaning of the statute. Mayor of City of Lansing v Mich. Pub Serv Comm, 470 Mich. 154, 165-166; 680 N.W.2d 840 (2004). Instead, a statute is ambiguous only if it creates an irreconcilable conflict with another provision or it is equally susceptible to more than one meaning. Id. at 166.

         "Apparently plain statutory language can be rendered ambiguous by its interaction with other statutes." Ross v Modern Mirror & Glass Co, 268 Mich.App. 558, 562; 710 N.W.2d 59 (2005). In the case of tension or conflict between the sections of a statute, if possible the sections should be construed to give meaning to each such that they are harmonized. Nowell v Titan Ins Co, 466 Mich. 478, 483; 648 N.W.2d 157 (2002). It is well settled that when construing a statute, a court must read it as a whole. Apsey v Mem Hosp, 477 Mich. 120, 127; 730 N.W.2d 695 (2007). "[C]ourts must pay particular attention to statutory amendments, because a change in statutory language is presumed to reflect either a legislative change in the ...

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