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2009-UP-592 - County of Abbeville v. Calhoun Falls Rescue Squad, Inc.

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

County of Abbeville, Respondent,

v.

Calhoun Falls Rescue Squad, Inc., Appellant.


Appeal From Abbeville County
Doyet A. Early, III, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No.  2009-UP-592
Heard November 11, 2009 – Filed December 15, 2009


AFFIRMED


C. Rauch Wise, of Greenwood, for Appellant.

Roy R. Hemphill, of Greenwood, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: In this declaratory judgment action, Calhoun Falls Rescue Squad, Inc., (the Squad) appeals the circuit court's decision finding the County of Abbeville (the County) owned a fifty percent interest in a 2001 ambulance and ordering the vehicle sold.  We affirm. 

A suit for declaratory judgment is neither legal nor equitable, but is determined by the nature of the underlying issue.  Hardy v. Aiken, 369 S.C. 160, 164-65, 631 S.E.2d 539, 541 (2006).  A determination of ownership of personal property is a matter at law and, on appeal, review is limited to determining whether any evidence supported the circuit court's decision.  In re Estate of Watford, 305 S.C. 535, 536, 409 S.E.2d 791, 792 (Ct. App. 1991). 

"A certificate of title issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles is prima facie evidence of the facts appearing on it."  S.C. Code Ann. § 56-19-320 (2006).  The certificate of title statute creates a rebuttable presumption that the vehicle's owner is the owner reflected on the title document.  Tollison v. Reaves, 277 S.C. 443, 445, 289 S.E.2d 163, 164 (1982).  This presumption may be overcome "by evidence that the true owner of the vehicle is a person other than the one in whose name the vehicle is registered."  Id.; see, e.g., Bankers Ins. Co. of Pa. v. Griffin, 244 S.C. 552, 558, 137 S.E.2d 785, 786 (1964) (holding man who made all payments on, purchased insurance for, and operated vehicle was true owner, and not his brother, in whose name vehicle was titled). 

Here, the circuit court's decision is supported by evidence in the record.  The certificate of title issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles on July 17, 2001, created a rebuttable presumption that the 2001 ambulance was owned jointly by the County and the Squad.  See § 56-19-320; Tollison, 277 S.C. at 445, 289 S.E.2d at 164.  The Squad presented evidence it had negotiated the price and features of the vehicle, secured and repaid a loan for the full cost, and exclusively used and maintained the vehicle.  However, the County supplied insurance and license plates for the vehicle and reimbursed the Squad for more than half the cost of the ambulance with State-provided grant money and County funds that were earmarked for the purchase of the ambulance.[1]  Furthermore, four of the County's five payments to the Squad occurred during the fifteen-month term of the Squad's loan.  Consequently, the Squad failed to rebut the presumption of co-ownership. 

AFFIRMED.[2] 

HUFF and GEATHERS, JJ., and CURETON, A.J., concur.   


[1] According to the County, the parties made an agreement pursuant to the County's Capital Growth Plan that the County would partially fund the ambulance purchase.  The County's payments included $13,396.60 in grants from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and matching funds of 5.5%, or $736.81, from the County.  Both parties participated in applying for the grant money.   

[2] We do not address the Squad's argument concerning equitable theories of constructive or resulting trust because this argument is unpreserved.  "It is axiomatic that an issue cannot be raised for the first time on appeal, but must have been raised to and ruled upon by the [circuit court] to be preserved for appellate review."  Wilder Corp. v. Wilke, 330 S.C. 71, 76, 497 S.E.2d 731, 733 (1998).  In its reply brief, the Squad argues against the theories of County ownership arising from an equitable trust.  However, this argument was not raised to or ruled upon by the circuit court.