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You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. Roberson v. Manning (1/27/2012) sp-6648

Roberson v. Manning (1/27/2012) sp-6648

        Notice: This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the PACIFIC  REPORTER. 
        Readers are requested to bring errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts, 
        303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, phone (907) 264-0608, fax (907) 264-0878, email 
        corrections@appellate.courts.state.ak.us. 

                 THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA 

DIANE ROBERSON,                                ) 
                                               )       Supreme Court No. S-13371 
                Appellant,                     ) 
                                               )       Superior Court No.      3AN-06-12027 CI 
        v.                                     ) 
                                               )       O P I N I O N 
WAYNE MANNING and                              ) 
DENNIS WILSON,                                 ) 
                                               )       No. 6648 - January 27, 2012 
                Appellees.                     ) 
                                               ) 

                Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third 
                Judicial District, Anchorage, Peter A. Michalski, Judge. 

                Appearances:   Goriune   Dudukgian,   Alaska   Legal   Services 
                Corporation,   Anchorage,   for   Appellant.   Appellees   did   not 
                participate. 

                Before:    Carpeneti, Chief Justice, Fabe, Winfree, Christen, 
                and Stowers, Justices. 

                STOWERS, Justice. 

I.      INTRODUCTION 

                Wayne Manning told Diane Roberson he would give her his share of their 

jointly purchased mobile home.  Without her knowledge, he then transferred title of the 

mobile   home   to   his   name   only   and   sold   it   to   Dennis   Wilson. Wilson   attempted   to 

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terminate Roberson's tenancy in the mobile home.       Roberson filed suit in the superior 

court to be declared the owner of the home.   The court concluded that Manning did not 

give his share of the home to Roberson and that Wilson was a good-faith purchaser and 

therefore the owner. Roberson appeals, arguing that she is the owner because Manning's 

gift to her was valid and the sale to Wilson was invalid.  We vacate the superior court's 

conclusion that Manning did not give Roberson the home.   We also vacate the superior 

court's determination that Wilson was a good-faith purchaser. We remand for additional 

findings on both of these issues. 

II.    FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS 

              Diane Roberson and Wayne Manning were romantically involved between 

September 1989 and June 2005.       In 1997 Roberson and Manning jointly purchased a 

mobile home in Anchorage. The financing bank retained the title, which remained in the 

name of the previous owners with the "transferee" line left blank. 

              The two occupied the mobile home off and on until 1999, after which time 

they rented it to Roberson's daughter. 

              On June 25, 2005, Manning petitioned for a domestic violence protective 

order against Roberson.  Roberson moved into the mobile home with her daughter on or 

around the day the petition for a protective order was filed.   At a June 30 hearing on the 

protective order petition, Manning stated on the record, "I'm going to pay it off and she 

can have my share of it.   I don't have a problem with that."1 

              Soon thereafter, Manning paid the remaining balance on the mobile home 

and received the original title from the bank.   In August 2006 Manning titled the mobile 

       1      Manning's attorney played a recording of this portion of the 2005 hearing 

during the proceedings currently under review.       It is therefore a part of the appellate 
record in this case. See Alaska R. App. P. 210. 

                                             -2-                                        6648 

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home in his name by filling in the transferee line on the original title with his name only. 

In August or early September he agreed to sell the mobile home to Dennis Wilson for 

$10,000. 

               Before the sale, Wilson visually inspected the outside of the mobile home 

and observed that someone was living there, but he did not inspect the inside.         Wilson 

paid Manning $2,000 down in exchange for the title and agreed to pay the remainder 

within 30 to 45 days.      Around the time of the sale, Manning told Wilson that his ex- 

girlfriend was living in the mobile home, but not that Roberson and Manning had been 

co-purchasers      of  the   home.     Wilson     transferred   the  title  to  his  name     on 

September 2, 2006.      Wilson later testified that after "this lawsuit came up," he told 

Manning he would not pay the remaining $8,000 until title was "straightened out" or, as 

Manning testified, until Wilson "got rid of Ms. Roberson from the trailer." 

               On    September    6,  2006,  Wilson   had  a  Notice   to  Terminate   Tenancy 

delivered to Roberson.     It informed her that the mobile home had been sold to Wilson 

and that Wilson would evict her if she did not vacate the home by October 6. 

               Roberson     remained    in  the  mobile   home   and   filed  a  complaint   for 

declaratory and injunctive relief in the superior court against Manning and Wilson.  She 

requested declarations that she was the mobile home's rightful owner and that Wilson 

was not a bona fide purchaser.     She also requested injunctions prohibiting Manning or 

Wilson from evicting her and ordering them to convey the mobile home's title to her. 

               The superior court conducted a bench trial in July 2008.          At that time, 

Roberson was still living in the mobile home.      Manning testified that he agreed to give 

Roberson   his share of the mobile home at the 2005 domestic violence hearing only 

because she was trying to move into his house where he lived with his mother. He feared 

that if Roberson returned to his house, she would abuse his mother.            As a result, he 

                                              -3-                                         6648
 

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argued that the gift was made under duress and was therefore invalid.  Wilson, who was 

pro se, argued that he was the rightful owner because he purchased the mobile home in 

good faith. 

                The superior court concluded that Manning did not give his share of the 

mobile home to Roberson because there was no delivery through title transfer. The court 

also concluded that Wilson was a good-faith purchaser of the mobile home.  It concluded 

that Roberson and Manning were co-owners of the mobile home and that Roberson 

should receive 50% of the proceeds of the sale.  The court further concluded that Wilson 

was entitled to immediate possession. 

                On appeal, Roberson argues that Manning gave her his share of the mobile 

home.  She argues that the superior court erred in concluding that Wilson was the owner 

of the home because Manning did not have voidable title to her share of the mobile home 

and Wilson was not a good-faith purchaser. She asks us to reverse the superior court and 

hold that she is the sole owner of the home. 

III.    DISCUSSION 

        A.      Standard Of Review 

                We   apply our    independent judgment to questions of law, adopting "the 

rule of law that is most persuasive in light of precedent, reason, and policy."2         We review 

de novo the application of law to facts.3 

        2       Young   v.   Embley,   143   P.3d   936,   939   (Alaska   2006)   (internal   citations 

omitted). 

        3       Dodson v. Dodson, 955 P.2d 902, 905 (Alaska 1998) (citing Fitzgerald v. 

Puddicombe, 918 P.2d 1017, 1019 (Alaska 1996)). 

                                                 -4-                                              6648 

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       B.	     It Was Error To Conclude That Manning Did Not Give His Share Of 
               The   Mobile   Home   To   Roberson   Solely   Because   Manning   Did   Not 
               Deliver Title. 

               The superior court concluded that Manning did not give his share of the 

mobile home to Roberson at the June 2005 hearing because, although "intention to give 

it up was expressed," Manning never transferred title to Roberson. Roberson argues that 

Manning delivered the property because she was living in the home as of June 2005, and 

that Manning therefore properly gave her his share of the mobile home. 

                Under   Alaska law, the transfer of ownership of a vehicle, including a 

mobile home,4  is "not effective"5  until the original owner "deliver[s] the certificates of 

title and registration to the transferee at the time of delivery of the vehicle."6  Failure of 

delivery of the title and registration, however, only "creates a presumption . . . that there 

has been no delivery"   until title has passed properly.7      "[T]his presumption may be 

rebutted by a showing that there has actually been a delivery         and that ownership has 

actually passed . . . in conformity with the true intentions of the parties."8 Alaska Statute 

28.10.261 supports this interpretation, providing that "[i]n a civil . . . proceeding, when 

the title or right to possession of a vehicle is involved, the . . . records of the [Department 

of Motor Vehicles] are prima facie evidence of the ownership or right to possession." 

       4	      AS 28.10.661(2). 

       5	      AS 28.10.361. 

       6	      AS 28.10.271(b). 

       7       See State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Clark, 397 F. Supp. 745, 752 (D. 

Alaska 1975) (interpreting former AS 28.10.370 (repealed 1978)). This case interpreted 
the   precursor    to  AS   28.10.271(b).     Compare      AS    28.10.271(b),   with    former 
AS 28.10.350, and former AS 28.10.370.         The statutes are substantially similar. 

       8       See State Farm, 397 F. Supp. at 752. 

                                              -5-	                                        6648
 

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The statute "does not preclude oral testimony as to the ownership, or right to possession, 

of a motor vehicle" that can outweigh the prima facie evidence.9 

                It was legal error to conclude that Manning did not transfer his share of the 

mobile home to Roberson solely because he did not transfer title.                 The superior court 

should     have   viewed   the   failure  to  transfer   title   as   only  prima   facie   evidence   and 

considered      whether   the   other   evidence   of   transfer   of   ownership   presented    at  trial 

outweighed the prima facie evidence.10          Because additional findings of fact are required 

to correctly apply the law, we vacate the superior court's conclusion and remand for a 

determination of whether Roberson overcame the presumption that there was no delivery 

of the mobile home.11 

                The superior court must determine the true intentions of the parties to fully 

assess whether Roberson overcame the presumption that there had been no delivery of 

the mobile home.12     The superior court must also determine if Manning had the necessary 

donative intent to make a gift of his share of the mobile home to Roberson, rather than 

a mere promise to make a gift in the future. Generally, a promise that is not supported 

        9       See   Weaver     v.   O'Meara     Motor    Co.,   452  P.2d   87,   90  (Alaska   1969) 

(interpreting former AS 28.10.560). 

        10      We note that the fact that Roberson remained in possession of the mobile 

home is an indication that the home had actually been delivered.                See 38 AM . JUR . 2D 
Gifts  20 (2009) ("[P]ersonal delivery by the donor is not necessary when a donee is 
already in possession of the property in question and the donor's intention to surrender 
all right to the property is fully and clearly manifested."). 

        11      State, Dep't of Health & Soc. Servs., Office of Children's Servs. v. Doherty, 

167    P.3d   64,   71  (Alaska    2007)    (remanding     so   that  party   could   submit    relevant 
documentary evidence); S.B. v. State, 614 P.2d 786, 790 (Alaska 1980) (remanding to 
superior court to make essential finding of fact and correctly apply rule of law). 

        12      See State Farm, 397 F. Supp. at 752. 

                                                  -6-                                             6648
 

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by consideration is not legally enforceable.13          Manning's donative intent must be clear, 

unmistakable,   and   unequivocal.14         The   superior   court   should   look   to   the   facts   and 

circumstances       surrounding      the   parties,  the   relationship    between     the   parties,   and 

especially Manning's direct expressions in order to determine his intent.15 

                 At the bench trial before the superior court, Manning also argued that the 

gift was made under duress, thus signifying that he did not truly intend to give Roberson 

the mobile home. Therefore, the superior court should also consider whether Roberson 

exerted undue influence over Manning. We have held that a gift is void if obtained by 

undue influence.16      When determining whether there was undue influence, the superior 

court should consider the effect of the influence, the person by whom it was exerted, the 

time and place, and all other circumstances.17           Manning has the burden of showing that 

he was "virtually compelled" to give Roberson the mobile home, and that he "would not 

have [given] it if left to the free exercise of [his] own judgment and wishes."18 

        13       See generally E. ALLAN FARNSWORTH , CONTRACTS  2.5 (4th ed. 2008). 

        14       38 AM . JUR . 2D  Gifts  18 (2009).       See also Ferer v. Aaron Ferer & Sons 

Co., 732 N.W.2d 667, 674 (Neb. 2007) ("A clear and unmistakable intention on the part 
of the donor to make a gift of his or her property is an essential element of the gift . . . 
."). 

        15       See 38 AM . JUR . 2D  Gifts  19 (2009); 38A C.J.S. Gifts  16 (2009). 

        16       Ware v. Ware, 161 P.3d 1188, 1193 (Alaska 2007) (applying rule to gift 

from parent to child). 

        17      Id. (internal citations omitted). 

        18       See id. at 1194 (internal citations omitted). 

                                                    -7-                                              6648
 

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        C.	     The Question Whether Wilson Was A Good-Faith Purchaser Must Be 
                Remanded To The Superior Court For Further Findings. 

                The   superior   court   concluded   that   Wilson   was   a   good-faith   purchaser 

because there was no evidence of impropriety or conspiracy, and Wilson offered a price 

for the home that was "consistent with his purposes and needs."                As a result, the court 

concluded that Wilson was entitled to possession, and Manning and Roberson, as co- 

owners, should divide the proceeds of the sale equally. 

                Roberson argues that Wilson was not a good-faith purchaser because he 

knew Roberson was living in the home but never inquired about her interest in it, and 

because   he   knew   the   purchase   price   was   far   below   market   value.   On   the   issue   of 

Wilson's knowledge, Manning testified at the trial that he had told Wilson that Wilson 

would have to evict Roberson from the trailer because she was living in it.                    Wilson 

testified that at first Manning did not mention that anyone was living in the trailer but 

Wilson knew that Manning himself was no longer living in it.                 Wilson testified that he 

"looked at the outside of [the trailer]" and that he drove by it every day, and could tell 

someone lived in trailer because cars were parked there, among other things. 

                Regarding the purchase price, Wilson testified that his trailer, though older 

than the trailer in dispute, was appraised at $23,000 and that the deal he struck with 

Manning was to pay $10,000 with $2,000 down. Wilson testified that the deal was to get 

the remainder of the money to Manning within 30 to 45 days but that when this suit 

arose,   he   said,   "I'm   not   paying   [Manning]   any   more   money   until   we   get   this   title 

straightened out." 

                Wilson then testified that the trailer park's property managers told him that 

Roberson was living in the trailer when he took the title to the trailer park office, but that 

he did not ask Manning how Roberson came to live there. Wilson testified that Manning 

                                                  -8-	                                            6648
 

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told him that  Manning and Roberson had been in a relationship for many years, but did 

not say they had purchased the trailer together. 

                As we explain above in Part B, there remains a question whether Manning 

conveyed his interest in the mobile home to Roberson, or whether they were equal co- 

owners at the time that Manning attempted to sell the mobile home to Wilson.  Even so, 

if a seller has voidable title to goods, he may sell them to a good-faith purchaser for 

value.19 

                 We observe there is an unresolved question whether Manning's title was 

voidable or void.   The Fifth Circuit explained the distinction between voidable title and 

void title in American Standard Credit, Inc. v. National Cement Co .:20 

                 For the seller to have obtained even voidable title, he must 
                have obtained delivery of the goods through "a transaction of 
                purchase." While this phrase has been defined broadly by 
                various courts, it is generally limited to those situations in 
                which the party who delivered the goods to the subsequent 
                 seller intended, however misguidedly, that the seller would 
                become   the   owner   of   the   goods.   Thus,   the   con   artist   who 
                 fraudulently induces a manufacturer to deliver goods to him 
                by   means   of   a   forged   check   has   voidable   title   because   he 
                 obtained   delivery   through   a   transaction   of   purchase,   even 
                though      the  defrauded     manufacturer      could   bring   criminal 
                 charges against the con artist; under [UCC] section 2-403(1), 
                the defects in the con artist's voidable title would be cured by 
                 a sale to a good faith purchaser for value, and the good faith 

        19      AS 45.02.403(a) ("A person with voidable title has power to transfer a good 

title to a good faith purchaser for value.").  See also BLACK 'S LAW DICTIONARY 374 (9th 
ed. 2009) (defining a voidable contract as "[a] contract that can be affirmed or rejected 
at the option of one of the parties; a contract that is void as to the wrongdoer but not void 
as to the party wronged, unless the party elects to treat it as void."). 

        20       643 F.2d 248, 268 (5th Cir. 1981). 

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                purchaser would obtain clear title, free from any claims of the 
                manufacturer. But if the con artist merely converts the goods 
                to his own use after having obtained possession of them in 
                some manner other than through a transaction of purchase, 
                he does not have even voidable title; instead, he has void title, 
                and cannot pass good title even to a good faith purchaser for 
                value. 

 (Emphasis added.) 

                Some   courts   interpret   the   phrase   "transaction   of   purchase"   broadly   to 

 include "sale, discount, negotiation, mortgage, pledge, lien, issue or reissue, gift, or any 
 other voluntary transaction creating an interest in property."21  These transactions assume 

 a voluntary transfer of the asset, even if the transfer is under false pretenses.              These 

 courts, and commentary on the UCC, agree that "[t]he voidable title rule does not alter 

 the common law rule that when goods are stolen, the true owner may reclaim the goods 
 although subsequent sales have been made thereof."22            "The voidable title rule does not 

 apply where the goods have been stolen."23             As one commentator   summarized, "[a] 

possessor of goods does not have voidable title unless the true owner has consented to 

 the transfer of title to the possessor, even though the transfer is voidable because of some 
form of fraud ."24 

        21      Creggin Grp., Ltd. v. Crown Diversified Indus. Corp., 682 N.E.2d 692, 696 

 (Ohio App. 1996). 

        22      LARY LAWRENCE,LAWRENCE 'S ANDERSON ON THE UNIFORM COMMERCIAL 

 CODE  2-403:67 (2009); see also  Creggin Grp., 682 N.E.2d at 697 ("[I]f goods are 
 stolen from the true owner there has been no transaction of purchase."). 

        23      LAWRENCE, supra note 22,  2-403:67; see also id. ("[W]here the owner 

 loses, or is robbed of, the goods, the owner can reclaim the goods no matter in whose 
possession they may be found."). 

        24      Id. (emphasis added). 

                                                 -10-                                            6648
 

----------------------- Page 11-----------------------

                Manning titled the mobile home in his name by filling in the transferee line 

on   the   original   title   with   his   name   only. It   appears   he   did   this   without   Roberson's 

permission and despite the bill of sale's recognition that both parties owned the mobile 

home.      Thus,    it  may   be   that  Manning's      title  was  void,   not  voidable,    when    he 

sold   the   mobile   home   to   Wilson.   If   true,   Wilson   would   not   have   been   entitled   to 
protection under AS 45.02.403(a)25 as a good-faith purchaser for value.  The superior 

court must resolve these questions on remand and determine whether Manning possessed 

a voidable title or void title. 

                If Manning's title is determined to be voidable, the issue then is whether 
Wilson was a good-faith (bona fide) purchaser.26              If he was, then his purchase from 

        25      AS 45.02.403(a) provides: 

                A person with voidable title has power to transfer a good title 
                to a good faith purchaser for value. When goods have been 
                delivered under a transaction of purchase, the purchaser has 
                such power even though 

                (1)  the   transferor   was   deceived   as   to   the   identity   of   the 
                purchaser; 

                (2) the delivery was in exchange for a check that was later 
                dishonored; 

                (3) it was agreed that the transaction was to be a "cash sale"; 
                or 

                (4) the delivery was procured through fraud punishable as 
                larcenous under the criminal law. 

(Emphasis added.) 

        26      Wilson was a purchaser even though he did not pay the entire purchase 

price up front.   See LAWRENCE, supra note 22,  1-201:411; see also Alpine Paper Co. 
v. Lontz, 856 S.W.2d 940, 943 (Mo. App. 1993). 

                                                  -11-                                            6648
 

----------------------- Page 12-----------------------

Manning was legally valid even if Manning only had voidable title.  If he was not, then 

his purchase from Manning cannot be upheld. 
               Good faith is "honesty in fact in the conduct or transaction concerned."27 

We    have   noted   that   a  purchaser  acts  in  bad  faith  when   there  is  evidence   of  the 
purchaser's   "subjective   and   conscious   dishonesty."28      Evidence   of   the   purchaser's 

"subjective knowledge" of a possible flaw in the transaction shows bad faith.29 Wilson 

testified as to his subjective and conscious knowledge of possible adverse interests in the 

mobile    home.    After    Wilson   and   Manning     began   discussing   the  sale,  but  before 

finalization, Wilson drove by the mobile home multiple times and observed that someone 

was living there.   He knew at the time that Manning was not living in the mobile home 

but apparently did not learn that Roberson was the occupant until after exchanging the 

$2,000 down payment for the title to the mobile home. 

               The superior court's conclusion that Wilson was a good-faith purchaser did 

not address Wilson's willingness to go through with the sale knowing that an as-of-yet- 

unidentified third party was living in the mobile home.  In analogous circumstances, we 

have stated that it is a "settled rule of property" that when circumstances surrounding the 

purchase of real property "suggest outstanding equities in third parties," the purchaser 
has a duty "to make a reasonable investigation into the existence of a claim."30 

        27     Former   AS   45.01.201(20).       It   was   replaced  by   AS   45.01.211(b)(22), 

effective January 1, 2010 and not applicable to any right of action that accrued before 
that date.  Ch. 44,  9, 115, SLA 2009. 

        28     Dischner v. United Bank Alaska, 631 P.2d 107, 111 (Alaska 1981). 

        29     Frantz v. First Nat'l Bank of Anchorage, 584 P.2d 1125,  1127 (Alaska 

1978). 

        30     Modrok v. Marshall, 523 P.2d 172, 174 (Alaska 1974); see also Methonen 

                                                                                    (continued...) 

                                               -12-                                           6648
 

----------------------- Page 13-----------------------

                A mobile home is personal property, as opposed to real property, and its 

sale is governed by the UCC. In Frantz v. First National Bank of Anchorage, we applied 
the UCC's definition of good faith.31 We held that actual knowledge or reason to know 

of a possible flaw in a transaction creates an "affirmative duty to inquire" about the 
possible flaw.32 While Frantz  is about a personal check and not a mobile home, our 

reasoning applies even more strongly in the context of a mobile home. A mobile home 

is different from other forms of personal property because it serves as a residence. 

                We vacate the superior court's conclusion that Wilson was a good-faith 

purchaser and remand for additional findings.            On remand, the superior court should 

consider   whether   Wilson   inquired   sufficiently   into   the   nature   of   the   mobile   home 

occupant's interest in the mobile home and its effect on Wilson's status as a good-faith 

purchaser. 

IV.     CONCLUSION 

                We VACATE the superior court's conclusions that Manning did not give 

his share of the mobile home to Roberson and the superior court's determination that 

Wilson was a good-faith purchaser for additional findings.             We REMAND for further 

proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

        30      (...continued) 

v. Stone, 941 P.2d 1248, 1252 (Alaska 1997) ("It is well established that a purchaser will 
be charged with notice of an interest adverse to his title when he is aware of facts which 
would lead a reasonably prudent person to a course of investigation which, properly 
executed, would lead to knowledge of the servitude."). 

        31      Frantz, 584 P.2d at 1127. 

        32      Id. (stating that absent actual knowledge or reason to know of defenses to 

an instrument, the bank has no   affirmative duty to inquire whether defenses exist to 
maintain status as holder in due course). See also AS 45.01.201(26) (stating definition 
of when a party has "notice"). 

                                                 -13-                                             6648 
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