Michigan Supreme Court; Docket No. 129943; Published
Opinion by Justice Taylor; 5-2 (Justices Cavanagh and Kelly dissenting)
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: 477 Mich. 62, Link to Opinion
In this 5-2 opinion by Chief Justice Taylor, the Michigan Supreme Court held that ownership to a motor vehicle is transferred when the application for title is signed. The plaintiff in this case was injured when a vehicle that had been purchased from a dealership a few hours earlier collided with a parked car. Plaintiff sued the dealership, claiming that under Goins v Greenfield Jeep Eagle, Inc., 449 Mich 1 (1995) [Item No. 1778], the dealership still owned the vehicle at the time of the accident because it had not mailed or delivered the signed application for title to the Secretary of State. The Court of Appeals agreed and the dealership appealed. On Application for Leave to Appeal, the dealership argued that under MCL 257.233(9), an application for title to a motor vehicle is executed at the time the application is signed. The Michigan Supreme Court agreed, holding that “execution” is complete at signing and, therefore, when the application is signed, title is transferred to the new owner.
In so finding, the Michigan Supreme Court noted that under MCL 257.401, the owner of a vehicle is liable for injury resulting from operation of a vehicle, even if the owner is not the driver. Under MCL 257.37, an owner holds the title and MCL 257.233(9) explains that title is transferred on the date of its execution. The court then noted that case law has consistently held that execution requires signing. In addition, other statutes indicated that “delivery” occurs after execution. Moreover, the dictionary defines execution as signing. Therefore, the court held the application was executed when the title was signed and the dealership was not required to send the title to the Secretary of State in order to be absolved from liability. In this regard, the Michigan Supreme Court stated:
“Under MCL 257.401, the ‘owner’ of a vehicle is liable for injury resulting from operation of the vehicle, even if the owner is not the driver. An ‘owner’ is one who holds the title (unless the vehicle is leased). MCL 257.37. MCL 257.233(9) explains when title is transferred (emphasis added):
Upon the delivery of a motor vehicle and the transfer, sale, or assignment of the title or interest in a motor vehicle by a person, including a dealer, the effective date of the transfer of title or interest in the vehicle shall be the date of execution of either the application for title or the assignment of the certificate of title. . . .
Our caselaw has consistently held that execution requires signing, and that delivery is separate from execution. Other statutes within the Michigan Vehicle Code likewise indicate that mailing or delivery occurs after execution. This is also consistent with the definition of ‘execute’ found in Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed): ‘To complete; to make; to sign; to perform; to do; to follow out; to carry out according to its terms; to fulfill the command or purpose of.’. . . We conclude that the application for title was executed in this case because it was signed by the parties. Defendant was not required to send the application to the Secretary of State in order to complete the execution.”
(emphasis in original)