This is a declaratory judgment action designed to determine which of two automobile liability insurance carriers is responsible for the defense of claims asserted consequent upon an accident. The relatively simple facts were not susceptible of contradiction and so were stipulated. The legal issues were simplified by the concession of the parties that one or the other insurance company would defend the claims under a then extant policy, depending upon the resolution of the legal issue remaining.
The automobile involved was purchased from the manufacturer by Kelsey H. Edwards (hereafter Kelsey), father of K. Robert Edwards (hereafter Robert). Kelsey was insured with respect to this automobile by defendant Keystone Insurance Company. On Friday, January 9, 1970, Kelsey, while the registered owner, drove to his son's residence, which was separate and apart from Kelsey's, for the purpose of selling the automobile to his son. On that date he gave his son possession of the vehicle, delivering both the keys and a fully executed assignment of certificate of ownership, the latter appearing on the reverse of the original
certificate of ownership. Robert paid his father in full for the car and delivered a check to him for $300.
The following day, Saturday, January 10, 1970, several attempts were made (apparently by father and son together, although this does not appear in the stipulated facts, and is probably not significant) to locate a motor vehicle agency, presumably to effect the change of title on the records of the Division of Motor Vehicles. None was found that was open. Kelsey returned home.
On Sunday, January 11, 1970, Robert was involved in an accident while driving the automobile in question. It is this accident from which the claims and this litigation have arisen.
The next business day, Monday, January 12, 1970, Kelsey deposited the check he had received in his bank in the municipality where he resided. On Friday, January 16, 1970, Robert recorded the assignment of certificate of ownership he had received with the Motor Vehicle Division, and received his own certificate of ownership.
The sole issue here to be determined is the ownership of the automobile at the time of the accident. The question may be framed in terms of title. If, under the applicable New Jersey law, title passed to Robert with the delivery and execution of the assignment on Friday, January 9, 1970, then there must be a judgment for defendant. If, on the other hand, as plaintiff argues, title was not perfected, and consequently did not pass until submission to the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles of evidence of the purchase, then plaintiff must have judgment.
Regulation of ownership and operation of motor vehicles in this State is statutory as an expression of the State's proper interest in regulating the use of its highways in the common welfare. State v. Kabayama , 98 N.J. Super. 85, 88 (App. Div. 1967), aff'd o.b. 52 N.J. 507 (1968). Accordingly, we must endeavor to divine from statutory expression the intent of the Legislature in this regard. In re Public Service Coordinated Transport v. Super Service Bus
We consider first defendant's argument that title passed under the provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code, N.J.S.A. 12A:1-101 et ...