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Metzger v. Americredit Fin. Svcs. - 273 Ga. App. 453, 615 S.E.2d 120 (2005)

Rule:

In order to establish a claim for conversion, the complaining party must show: (1) title to the property or the right of possession, (2) actual possession in the other party, (3) demand for return of the property, and (4) refusal by the other party to return the property.

When read in pari materia with O.C.G.A. §§ 11-9-303 and 11-9-316(d)(e)O.C.G.A. § 11-9-337(1) gives protection to a good faith purchaser for value who is not in the business of selling goods of that kind, when there is continued perfection of the security interest under O.C.G.A. § 11-9-316(d)(e), but the Georgia certificate of title fails to reflect the security interest. 

Facts:

James Strong purchased a Ford Taurus, financed by Americredit Financial Services, Inc. (hereinafter, “Americredit”), which obtained a security interest in the vehicle. The New York certificate of title issued to Strong reflected Americredit's security interest in the vehicle. Strong later moved from New York to Georgia and submitted a “MV1Z” application form, along with the existing title and the required fee, to the Cobb County tag agent for the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) in order to convert the existing New York certificate of title to a Georgia one. The DMV processed the application, but as a result of a clerical data entry error, the DMV issued a Georgia certificate of title that did not reflect Americredit's security interest in the vehicle. Strong later transferred the vehicle to an automobile dealer owner, and the vehicle thereafter passed through a non-dealer owner and additional dealer owners before Theresa Metzger purchased it in March 2002. None of the subsequent Georgia certificates of title issued for the vehicle in connection with these transfers reflected Americredit's security interest. After Metzger purchased the vehicle and registered it with the DMV, Americredit, having finally located the vehicle, repossessed it from Metzger's residence and sold it at auction. Once she learned from the police department that her vehicle had been repossessed rather than stolen, Metzger filed suit against Americredit in the Superior Court of Clayton County. She contended that Americredit wrongfully repossessed her vehicle and kept her personal belongings contained therein. As a consequence, Americredit should be held liable for conversion, negligence, deceptive trade practices, breach of the peace, breach of good faith, racketeering, unjust enrichment, and breach of sale. Metzger subsequently filed a motion seeking partial summary judgment on her claim of conversion. Americredit filed its response and a cross-motion for summary judgment on all of Metzger's claims. The superior court denied Metzger's motion for partial summary judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of Americredit on Metzger's conversion claim only. The superior court concluded that Americredit had a perfected security interest in the vehicle that it could enforce against Metzger. Metzger appealed.

Issue:

Assuming arguendo that Americredit had a perfected security interest in the vehicle, could it be enforced against Metzger, notwithstanding the fact that the issued Georgia certificates of title did not reflect Americredit's security interest?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court held that Metzger took the car free of the security interest pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 11-9-337. According to the court, although Americredit’s security interest in the car remained perfected at the time that Metzger purchased the car, that security interest could not be enforced against Metzger, a good faith purchaser as defined in O.C.G.A. § 11-9-337(1), since the security interest was not properly reflected on the Georgia certificate of title. As such, the court reversed the trial court's partial summary judgment grant to Americredit and the case was remanded to the trial court with directions to enter summary judgment on the buyer's conversion claim.

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