Attorneys for Appellant Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
of Indiana Natalie F. Weiss Deputy Attorney General
from the Vigo Superior Court The Honorable Christopher A.
Newton, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 84D04-1712-MI-9013
Summary and Issue
Gregory Schneider applied to the trial court for an order
directing the Bureau of Motor Vehicles ("BMV") to
issue a certificate of title to a truck he purchased at an
auction. Over the BMV's objection, the trial court
ordered the BMV to issue a salvage title to the vehicle. The
BMV now appeals, raising one issue for our review: whether
the trial court's judgment is contrary to law. Concluding
the trial court's order is contrary to Indiana Code
section 9-22-3-18, we reverse.
and Procedural History
In June 2017, Schneider purchased a 2013 Ford F-250 truck
with a vehicle identification number ("VIN") ending
in 2853 at a salvage auction. The certificate of title
Schneider was given was lost or destroyed, and Schneider
therefore applied to the trial court for an order directing
the BMV to issue a certificate of title. Attached to
Schneider's application, inter alia, was an Affidavit of
Restoration for a Salvage Motor Vehicle signed by a Terre
Haute Police Department patrolman attesting that the
patrolman had personally examined the vehicle and certifying
that the "salvage restoration conforms to Indiana Code
[ch.] 9-22-3." Appellant's Appendix, Volume 2 at 32.
The trial court issued an order on January 11, 2018,
instructing the BMV to "issue a certificate of title to
[Schneider] upon receipt of payment of all requisite costs
and fees." Id. at 23.
On June 5, 2018, the BMV filed a motion for relief from
judgment, alleging it had not been served with the
application or a summons and was unaware of the trial
court's order until receiving a title application packet
from Schneider on May 25, 2018. Upon receiving the packet,
the BMV ran the truck's VIN through the National Motor
Vehicle Title Information System
("NMVTIS")and found the title was
branded as "[c]rushed" in Louisiana as
of October 20, 2016. Id. at 24. Such a brand means
the "frame or chassis of the vehicle has been crushed or
otherwise destroyed so that it is physically impossible to
use it in constructing a vehicle." Id. Citing
Indiana Code section 9-22-3-18, which prohibits issuance of a
certificate of title for a vehicle that has been designated
junk, dismantled, scrap, destroyed, "or any similar
designation in another state or jurisdiction[, ]" the
BMV asked that the trial court's January 11, 2018 order
be vacated as contrary to law. The trial court granted the
BMV's motion "to the extent it directs issuance of a
certificate of title" and set the matter for a hearing.
Id. at 17.
Schneider appeared in person for the hearing on July 13,
2018, and the BMV appeared by counsel telephonically. The BMV
stated that as long as the trial court's most recent
order granting its motion to set aside the judgment stands,
"[w]e don't have any other interest in this
matter." [July 13, 2018] Petition for Title Hearing
("July Tr."), Volume 2 at 6. Schneider asserted the
truck was a "flood vehicle" and stated he wanted
"to pay taxes on it so [he] can license it and insurance
[sic] it and drive it." Id. at 7. The trial
court set a review hearing and took the matter under
advisement to "[s]ee if there isn't something else
that could be done[.]" Id. at 8. At the review
hearing,  the trial court stated, "[Schneider]
said he wants a salvaged title or whatever. I mean, he just
wants to drive the car which is understandable[.] . . .
I'll order the BMV to issue him a salvaged title and
then, let's just see what . . . they do this time."
[December 10, 2018] Petition for Title Hearing ("Dec.
Tr."), Volume 2 at 7. Accordingly, the trial court
issued a written order that the BMV "shall issue a
certificate of title (salvaged) to [Schneider] upon
receipt of payment of all requisite costs and fees."
Appealed Order at 2 (emphasis added). The BMV now appeals.
Initially, we note that Schneider failed to file an
appellee's brief. When the appellee fails to file a brief
on appeal, we do not undertake the burden of developing
arguments for that party. Trinity Homes, LLC v.
Fang, 848 N.E.2d 1065, 1068 (Ind. 2006). Rather, we will
reverse the trial court's judgment if the appellant makes
a prima facie showing of reversible error. Id. In
this context, prima facie error is defined as "at first
sight, on first appearance, or on the face of it."
Orlich v. Orlich, 859 N.E.2d 671, 673 (Ind.Ct.App.
The BMV contends that the trial court's order was
contrary to law because Indiana Code section 9-22-3-18
prohibits issuance of any title to this vehicle. The
interpretation of a statute is a question of law which we
review de novo. BP Prods. N. America, Inc. v. Ind. Office
of Util. Consumer Counselor, 964 N.E.2d 234, 236
(Ind.Ct.App. 2011). "The primary purpose of statutory
interpretation is to ascertain and give effect to the intent
of the legislature. The best evidence of legislative intent
is the statutory language itself, and we strive to give the
words in a statute their plain and ordinary meaning."
21st Amendment, Inc. v. Ind. Alcohol & Tobacco
Comm'n, 84 N.E.3d 691, 696 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017)
(citations and internal quotation marks omitted), trans.
We begin by elaborating on Indiana's Salvage Motor
Vehicles Act. Ind. Code ch. 9-22-3. Whereas a "salvage
vehicle" might be considered in the common vernacular to
be any number of vehicles used for parts or scrap, the
Salvage Motor Vehicles Act allows a salvage title to be
issued only to a very specific category of salvage vehicles
described in Indiana Code section 9-22-3-3. Relevant to this
case is that the statute requires a flood damaged vehicle
manufactured within the last seven years to have a salvage
title. Ind. Code § 9-22-3-3(a)(3). If a vehicle for
which a salvage title has been issued is later repaired and
made operable, a "rebuilt vehicle title" may be
obtained. Ind. Code § 9-22-3-15. Schneider and the trial
court both referred to this truck as a "flood
vehicle." See July Tr., Vol. 2 at 7; Dec. Tr.,
Vol. 2 at 6. Schneider provided proof that the vehicle was
inspected by a police officer and deemed roadworthy. He also
showed the trial court a picture of the vehicle at the July
hearing and the trial court observed that "it looks
fine." July Tr., Vol. 2 at 7. The trial court
understandably wanted to offer Schneider some avenue to be
able to drive his vehicle. However, other than
Schneider's assertion, there is no evidence that this
vehicle meets the definition of a flood damaged vehicle such
that it could have been issued a salvage title. See
Ind. Code § 9-22-3-2.5.
Moreover, even if this vehicle did meet the definition of a
flood damaged vehicle, it appears that the plain language of
section 9-22-3-18 would still prohibit it from being titled
if it also bears a particular brand. Indiana Code section
9-22-3-18 states, "A vehicle that has been designated
'JUNK', 'DISMANTLED', 'SCRAP',
'DESTROYED', or any similar designation in another
state or jurisdiction shall not be titled in
Indiana." (Emphasis added.) Only one case has addressed
this statute. Ind. Bureau of Motor Vehicles v. Majestic
Auto Body, 128 N.E.3d 466 (Ind.Ct.App. 2019), concerned
an effort to title two vehicles that had been purchased at an
auction in Texas. The vehicles were branded junk vehicles
because they had been damaged during Hurricane Harvey. The
NMVTIS report indicated the vehicles were "incapable of
safe operation for use on the roads or highways and [have] no
resale value except as a source of parts or scrap."
Id. at 467. Upon bringing the vehicles to Indiana,
Majestic had them inspected by the Indiana State Police,