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Giant Cab, Inc. v. CT Towing, Inc.

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

August 27, 2019

GIANT CAB, INCORPORATED, Plaintiff-Appellee,
CT TOWING, INC., Defendant-Appellant.


          Whitener Law Firm, P.A. Thomas M. Allison Albuquerque, NM for Appellee

          Western Agriculture, Resource and Business Advocates, LLP A. Blair Dunn Albuquerque, NM Law Office of Andrew G. Thornton Andrew G. Thornton Albuquerque, NM for Appellant


          ATTREP, JUDGE

         {¶1} Defendant CT Towing, Inc. appeals a district court judgment awarding Plaintiff Giant Cab Incorporated compensatory damages and costs for CT Towing's failure to allow Giant Cab to remove certain attached equipment from an accident-damaged taxicab CT Towing had lawfully towed and stored on its lot. CT Towing contends the district court erred in concluding (1) the items were not subject to the lien it lawfully held on the taxicab under NMSA 1978, Section 48-3-19 (1967), and (2) Giant Cab satisfactorily established its ownership of the items as required by NMAC (2/13/2015). We conclude the district court correctly interpreted the relevant statutory and regulatory provisions and substantial evidence supported the district court's finding that Giant Cab provided proof of ownership. We affirm.


         {¶2} We draw the facts from the testimony presented at the bench trial. At the direction of law enforcement, CT Towing towed a damaged taxicab from the scene of an accident to its storage lot. Robert Torch, the owner of Giant Cab, went to the storage lot the following morning to check on the condition of the vehicle and to retrieve certain items. Torch presented Martha Stanke, co-owner of CT Towing, his identification and asked to examine the vehicle and to retrieve the registration and other personal items. Torch was permitted onto the lot, where he retrieved the registration and observed that the vehicle was likely inoperable. He returned to the front office and showed Stanke the registration that had been stored in the vehicle. Stanke presented him with an invoice for the towing charges, which he signed. Based on standard CT Towing practice, his signature on the invoice indicated he had shown proof of ownership for the cab.

         {¶3} Torch then asked Stanke for permission to return to the vehicle to remove the taxicab's fare meter, the dome light painted with his company name and telephone number, and the relay, which operated the dome light, as he could still make use of those items. He explained to Stanke that removal would be straightforward, need not damage the vehicle, and could be accomplished in approximately fifteen minutes. Torch had installed the fare meter and the dome light himself in customizing and painting the cab after purchasing it, as was his general practice.

         {¶4} Stanke denied Torch's request, citing insurance concerns.[1] She later testified that the registration Torch retrieved from the vehicle appeared to be for a different vehicle and she had asked him to return with the correct registration. Regardless, instead of granting Torch's request to return to the vehicle, Stanke offered him an alternative-he could pay CT Towing's towing and storage fee, they would tow the vehicle off the lot, and he could retake possession of the vehicle and the items he sought.

         {¶5} That alternative was unacceptable to Torch and he left the lot. A few days later, Torch filed an action in district court, alleging claims of conversion and prima facie tort based on CT Towing's refusal to let him remove the items. The district court later held a one-day bench trial. Based on the evidence presented, the district court concluded Torch should have been allowed to remove the dome light, fare meter, and relay because the items constituted personal property under NMAC (2/13/2015), which the parties agreed was exempt from the tow company lien under Section 48-3-19. The court awarded Torch compensatory damages and costs. CT Towing appealed.


         I. Standard of Review

         {¶6} We review the district court's findings of fact for substantial evidence. See Williams v. Mann, 2017-NMCA-012, ¶ 25, 388 P.3d 295. We review de novo the district court's application of law to the facts. See TPL, Inc. v. N.M. Taxation & Revenue Dep't, 2003-NMSC-007, ¶10, 133 N.M. 447, 64 P.3d 474. We also review the district court's interpretation of the statutory and regulatory language de novo. See Truong v. Allstate Ins. Co., 2010-NMSC-009, ¶¶ 22, 24, 147 N.M. 583, 227 P.3d 73.

         {¶7} We aim to give effect to the Legislature's intent in construing statutory provisions. See Key v. Chrysler Motors Corp.,1996-NMSC-038, ¶13, 121 N.M. 764, 918 P.2d 350. We are aided by classic canons of statutory construction in discerning intent, and we look first to plain meaning. See Marbob Energy Corp. v. N.M. Oil Conservation Comm'n,2009-NMSC-013, ¶9, 146 N.M. 24, 206 P.3d 135. We read provisions in their entirety and construe them in relation with all others so as to produce a harmonious whole. See Key,1996-NMSC-038, ΒΆ14. "In interpreting sections of the Administrative Code, we apply the same ...

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