Preventing the DMV from Transferring Title to Your Vehicle
Click here to download the full guide with step-by-step instructions for completing the forms.
Warning! Do not let your insurance lapse! As the registered owner, any accidents or tickets will be your responsibility, even though you don't have control of the vehicle. (CA Vehicle Code § 16020.)
If you decide to let the car go for some reason, be sure to file a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form. This will protect you from further liability.
Disclaimer: This guide is intended as general information only. Your case may have factors requiring different procedures or forms. The information and instructions are provided for use in the Sacramento County Superior Court. Please keep in mind that each court may have different requirements. If you need further assistance, consult an attorney.
This packet includes:
You can prevent someone from selling your vehicle without permission by requesting a "courtesy stop" from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This prohibits the DMV from transferring the title to a vehicle for 60 days. To extend this indefinitely, you must get an injunction and temporary restraining order against the DMV.
This is a lengthy and expensive process. If your car is worth $10,000 or less, you may wish to consider suing in small claims court. It is much faster and less expensive. You can't get an injunction in small claims court, but starting the lawsuit may convince the person who has your car to return it.
There is no single "form" to file with the court to obtain an injunction. An injunction can only be issued as part of a lawsuit against the person who has the automobile. You will need to research an appropriate theory to sue that person, and file a complaint. Three common legal theories used to sue someone who has unauthorized possession of a car are 1) Breach of Contract, 2) Conversion, and 3) Right of Possession of Personal Property. You can include several different causes of action if they all might apply.
Along with the complaint, you will file an ex parte application for temporary restraining order and injunction. Getting an injunction is a two-part process. In part one, you request a temporary restraining order (TRO). When granted, this will immediately prohibit the DMV from transferring title, but it only lasts a short time.
When you get the TRO, the judge will also set a hearing date for a longer-lasting preliminary injunction. This hearing, called an "order to show cause" (OSC) hearing, takes place a couple of weeks later, so the sides have a chance to prepare arguments. The OSC hearing is not covered in this step-by-step guide. In many cases, the DMV will simply agree to entry of the injunction, so that the hearing is not necessary.
In some cases, the judge can also order the defendant to give the car back right away. Ask the librarian for information about a "writ of possession" if you want to request this.
Before you start: File a courtesy stop at the DMV. If you have not yet done this, go to the DMV and fill out the agency's "Courtesy Stop Request" form. You can pick up the form at the DMV or download it at http://dmv.ca.gov/forms/reg/reg500.htm.
Step 1: Draft a declaration explaining the facts behind the situation.
Step 2: Draft a complaint against the person who has the car and the DMV.
Step 3: Draft an ex parte application for temporary restraining order and OSC re preliminary injunction, along with a proposed order.
Step 4: File the lawsuit and pay the filing fee.
Step 5: Reserve a hearing date, and file the ex parte application at court.
Step 6: Give notice of the ex parte hearing to the other parties, and write a Declaration Re Notice.
Step 7: File all papers in court, including ex parte application, declaration(s) in support, proposed order, and Declaration re Notice, at least one day before the hearing.
Step 8: Go to the hearing. Most likely the DMV will not oppose the TRO. If the evidence presented is sufficient, the judge will sign the TRO and set a hearing on the order to show cause in about two weeks.
Step 9: Serve all parties the signed TRO, the summons and complaint, and notice of the hearing on OSC.
Step by Step Instructions
Step 1: Write a "declaration" explaining that you own the car, how the defendant got the car, what you've done to try to get the car back, and why you think the defendant plans to sell the car.
This declaration will be used in both the complaint and the application for TRO and injunction. It must be in a specific format, on pleading paper and with a caption. A customizable template can be downloaded from the Law Library's website at http://www.saclaw.org/Uploads/files/Step-by-Step/DMV-declaration.rtf. Instructions are included at the end of this Guide.
The declaration must explain all the facts the court needs to know to decide in your favor. Each separate fact should be explained in a numbered paragraph, so that you can easily refer to it in other documents. Any documents that you want the judge to see should be attached to the declaration as an exhibit, with an explanation.
For example, to state that you are the owner of the car, you might write:
4. I am the registered owner of a 2002 Toyota Corolla, license plate number 3TXS596, Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) 7842084092307 ("the Vehicle"). A true and correct copy of the registration certificate is attached as Exhibit "A."
Photocopy the registration and staple it to the end of the Declaration behind an Exhibit tab. For instructions on how to prepare an Exhibit page see the sample Declaration at the end of this Guide. If you have other documents to submit, use the same "true and correct" language to attach them as Exhibit B, C, and so forth.
NOTE: If other people also have facts that support your claims, you should ask them to write up a declaration in this same format.
Step 2: Write up a complaint against the DMV and the person who has the car, including a cause of action for injunction.
Here you must decide what legal theories ("causes of action") apply to your situation, and write a complaint that matches. For some causes of action, you can use a standard fill-in-the-blanks form. For others you will need to write up the complaint based on samples at the library. You must research the best causes of action in your case. A good starting point is Nolo Press' Win Your Lawsuitor a book such as California Causes of Action. Common causes of action include "breach of contract," "conversion," and "equitable right to possession," but these might not apply in your case, and/or other causes of action might apply. For more information, see our Legal Resource Guide on "Filing a Lawsuit" on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/filing-a-lawsuit.aspx.
The complaint should begin with general allegations of the facts. Copy the information in your Declaration (from Step 1) into the complaint, so that it is consistent with the facts you will use in the application for TRO. Change it into third person (change "I" and "my" into "Plaintiff" and "his" or "her").
Whatever causes of action you choose, you will also include one cause of action for an injunction against the DMV. A customizable sample complaint, including this cause of action, is available on the Law Library's website at http://www.saclaw.org/Uploads/files/Step-by-Step/DMV-complaint.rtf. Instructions are included at the end of this Guide.
You will also need to complete a Summons (SUM100) (http://courts.ca.gov/documents/sum100.pdf) and Civil Case Cover Sheet (CM010) (http://courts.ca.gov/documents/cm010.pdf), which are mandatory Judicial Forms and required in all cases.
Step 3: Write up an Ex Parte Application for Temporary Restraining Order and Order to Show Cause (OSC) re Preliminary Injunction.
The complaint gets the case started, but doesn't request the injunction. This application does that. You will file it after (or at the same time as) you file the complaint. You will need:
- Ex Parte Application
- Declaration in Support of Application (your own, and anyone else who has personal knowledge of the facts) – these are the declarations from Step 1.
- A proposed order granting a TRO and setting an OSC date.
Customizable templates of the application and proposed order can be downloaded from the Law Library's website at http://www.saclaw.org/Uploads/files/Step-by-Step/DMV-ex-parte-application.rtf (Application) and http://www.saclaw.org/Uploads/files/Step-by-Step/DMV-proposed-order.rtf (Proposed Order). Instructions are included at the end of this Guide.
Step 4: File the lawsuit and pay the filing fee.
Make two copies of the Complaint, Summons, and Civil Case Cover Sheet, then take them to court (720 9th St., Sacramento) and file them. Pay the filing fee, which varies depending on the amount of money you are requesting. As of the date of this document, filing fees range from $225 to $395. You can check the current Sacramento County filing fees at http://www.saccourt.ca.gov/indexes/fees-forms.aspx. The court clerk will keep your original documents and stamp the copies with an endorsement, fill in the case number, and assign the case to a "law and motion" department.
Step 5: After filing the complaint, reserve a hearing date for your ex parte application.
Your ex parte application will be heard in one of the two assigned law and motion departments, either Dept. 53 (916-874-7858) or Dept. 54 (916-874-7848). Call the department assigned you to in Step 4 to reserve a hearing time in a few days. Note: At least a day before your hearing, you must pay the motion fee and file your motion and supporting documents with the court (Step 7).
Step 6: Give notice of the ex parte hearing to the other parties.
All parties, including the DMV, must be notified of the lawsuit and the ex parte hearing no later than 10:00 a.m. the court day before the ex parte appearance, absent a showing of exceptional circumstances that justify a shorter time for notice. (California Rule of Court 3.1203, http://1.usa.gov/qG4X2L.) Notify the DMV at:
Department of Motor Vehicles
Legal Affairs Division (http://www.dmv.ca.gov/about/lad/subpsrvc.htm)
2415 First Avenue, Fifth Floor
Sacramento, CA 95818
Take notes of how you contacted the parties (telephone, fax, etc.), and how each party responded. Do they oppose the TRO? Will they appear at the hearing? If you can't reach them, detail the steps you took to try to find them, and the wording of any messages you leave.
Based upon your contact with the parties, complete the Declaration re Notice. A customizable template can be downloaded from the Law Library's website at http://www.saclaw.org/Uploads/files/Step-by-Step/DMV-decl-re-notice.rtf. Instructions are included at the end of this Guide.
Step 7: Take the Ex Parte Application and proposed Order from Step 3, Declaration(s) from Step 1, and Declaration re Notice from Step 6 to court and file them. Pay the filing fee for the ex parte application.
Before appearing for the ex parte hearing in Department 53 or 54, you must pay the appropriate fee in person at the Civil Filing Windows located at 720 9th Street, Room 102. This must be done at least one day before the hearing. As of the date of this document, the fee for filing a motion is $40. You can check the current Sacramento County filing fees at http://www.saccourt.ca.gov/indexes/fees-forms.aspx.
Step 8: Go to the hearing. Most likely the DMV will not oppose the TRO. If the evidence presented is sufficient, the judge will sign the TRO.
The judge will also set a hearing on the order to show cause in about two weeks, at which time the TRO against the DMV will expire. This second hearing is not covered in this packet. See a librarian for more information.
Step 9: Serve all parties the TRO, Summons and Complaint, and Notice of the Hearing on OSC.
Have someone (NOT YOU) serve copies of the signed TRO and the notice of the hearing on OSC on all parties. Have them serve the summons and complaint as well, if you haven't already done so. The person who does the service should sign a Proof of Service form. For instructions on how to serve these documents see the Law Library's Step by Step Guide on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/personal-service.aspx.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
On the Web
"Civil Ex Parte Motions," Sacramento County Superior Court
In the Library
California Forms of Pleading and Practice KFC 1010 .A65 C3
Chapter 303, "Injunctions," has in-depth information on temporary restraining orders and injunctions. Other chapters have sample complaints for various causes of action which you may use to write your Complaint (Step 2). These may include:
- Chapter 119, "Claim and Delivery," includes sample complaint for "possession of personal property."
- Chapter 140, "Contract," includes sample complaints for various breach of contract situations.
- Chapter 150, "Conversion," includes sample complaints for "conversion."
Win Your Lawsuit KFC968 .D86
This book does not cover restraining orders, but it can help you draft the underlying complaint. It contains sample filled-out forms for breach of contract, personal injury, and related causes of action.
Electronic Access: From any computer (library or home) via the Legal Information Reference Center. Instructions are available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/nolo-ebooks.aspx.
California Causes of Action KFC1003 .C35
This book describes many of the common causes of action. It comes with a CD-ROM with sample complaints that you can easily download and customize.