Action for damage to automobile arising out of a collision. On defendant's motion for summary judgment, the Superior Court, Carey, J., held that plaintiff was not the real party in interest required under Rules of Superior Court, rule 17(a), Del.C.Ann., to maintain action for damage to automobile which had been purchased by plaintiff's son and registered in plaintiff's name solely because son was subject to possible induction into armed forces and hence finance company was unwilling to accept him as buyer under conditional sales contract.
Motion for summary judgment granted.
[48 Del. 226] Action for damages to an automobile arising out of a collision. The matter is before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment based on the pleadings and plaintiff's answers to interrogatories.
The vehicle in question was, on the date of the accident, registered in plaintiff's name with the Delaware Motor Vehicle Department. Plaintiff's answers to interrogatories, however, disclose that the car was actually purchased by his son, Raymond Cammile, Jr., and was registered in the father's name solely because a finance company was unwilling to accept the son as buyer under a conditional sales contract, he being subject to possible [48 Del. 227] induction into the armed forces of the United States. Defendant's motion charges that the plaintiff is not a real party in interest within the meaning of Superior Court Rule 17(a), Del.C.Ann., which reads as follows:
‘ Real Party in Interest. Every action shall be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest; but an executor, administrator, guardian, trustee of an express trust, a party with whom or in whose name a contract has been made for the benefit of another, or a party authorized by statute may sue in his own name without joining with him the party for whose benefit the action is brought; but in those cases in which the bringing of an action for the use or benefit of another is the subject of statutory regulation, the action shall be brought as provided by statute.’
Donald W. Booker, Wilmington, for plaintiff.
David Snellenburg, II, of Killoran & VanBrunt, Wilmington, for defendant.
Plaintiff's brief admits that Raymond Cammile, Jr. had the beneficial interest
in the car, but argues that the father held the legal title which, he says, cannot be questioned by this defendant. The record permits no other inference than that the son was the true owner. He paid the original down payment and all subsequent installments from his own funds; he had exclusive control and use of the car; he furnished all the fuel and paid for all the repairs. The father had no connection with it in any way save that it was registered in his name at Dover. Admittedly, it was so registered solely for the son's benefit. Any possible presumption of a gift from the son to the father is effectively rebutted by the plaintiff's admission.
If this action were a replevin suit between son and father, the former could clearly recover, upon proof of the facts here admitted. Commercial Credit Co. v. McNelly, 6 W.W.Harr. 88, 171 A. 446.In that case, this Court pointed out that the Delaware Act, in contrast to those of some states, does not establish an exclusive method of transferring title to a motor vehicle; on the contrary, it is primarily a police measure. Of course, rights may accrue to third persons who innocently rely upon the [48 Del. 228] registration record, for in a proper case the doctrine of estoppel would undoubtedly operate against a person who permits his car to be registered in the name of another. Moreover, the registration may be, and probably is, prima facie evidence of true ownership. 1 Blashfield 516. I find nothing in the statute, however, which bars a third person, in privity with neither the true owner nor the registered owner, from attacking the registration collaterally in an action at law, when his rights would otherwise be adversely affected.
Plaintiff's argument incorrectly assumes that our statute, Title 21, Del.C. Sec. 101, makes the registration certificate conclusive evidence of legal title. In some states this assumption would doubtless be sound. In Ohio, for example, the statute makes the certificate the exclusive evidence of title, and the Courts are forbidden to recognize any right, claim or interest of any person in a motor vehicle unless evidenced by such a certificate. Therefore, in a case involving damages to a car, the Ohio Court declined to accept any evidence other than the certificate to prove ownership of the damaged vehicle. Beyer v. Miller, 90 Ohio App. 66, 103 N.E.2d 588.On the other hand, under statutes, which contain no such admonition, the certificate is no more than prima facie evidence of ownership, and Courts have accordingly permitted contrary proof, even by parties claiming no interest in the vehicle itself. Knops v. Ordorica, Civ.Tex.App., 242 S.W.2d 454; Burakowski v. Grustas, 134 Conn. 205, 56 A.2d 461; Farrelly v. Heuacker, 118 Fla. 340, 159 So. 24; 1 Blashfield 516; 7 A.L.R.2d 1344.Our statute is unlike that of Ohio, and is of the second type mentioned above.
The plaintiff suggests that he is entitled to sue under the terms of Rule 17(a), Del.C.Ann., ‘ a party with whom or in whose name a contract has been made for the benefit of another’ . This provision of the rule, in my opinion, refers only to an action upon the contract which was made for the benefit of another; at least, I have found no ...