Appeal from the Superior Court No. 4FA-12-02476 CI of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Patrick S. Hammers, Judge pro tem.
Michael A. Stepovich, Stepovich & Vacura Law Office, Fairbanks, for Appellant.
Harriet Dinegar Milks, Assistant Attorney General, Juneau, David A. Wilkinson, Assistant Attorney General, Fairbanks, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.
Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.
The owner of a "1972 Noland car" sought to title and register it as a "low-speed vehicle, " a special category of vehicles deemed roadworthy under Alaska law. The vehicle lacked a previous title, registration, or any other document from which its compliance with the applicable safety standards could be inferred. A cursory inspection failed to satisfy the Department of Administration, Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV),  that the vehicle met those standards, and the DMV refused to title and register it as a low-speed vehicle. Following an evidentiary hearing, a hearing officer upheld that decision, which was affirmed again on appeal to the superior court. The owner appeals to this court.
We affirm the superior court's decision to affirm the decision of the hearing officer. We conclude that substantial evidence supported the hearing officer's finding that the vehicle had not been shown to be safe for roadway use and that the decision not to title or register it therefore had a reasonable basis.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
Paige Vonder Haar purchased a vehicle from a seller in Oregon in 2007. The parties label the vehicle variously as an "electric car" or a "customized golf cart, " depending on their perspective. Paige's husband David testified that it was one of a number of vehicles built by Dale Noland for Disneyland "to move passengers and their luggage from hotels and places in the park." The Vonder Haars were not given any documents of title or registration at the time of purchase, but the bill of sale described it as a "1972 Noland car" (though it appears the vehicle may actually have been manufactured in 1971). The vehicle model was identified as "Ambassador." The Vonder Haars intended that their son would use the vehicle "to sell ice cream on the streets in Fairbanks."
Alaska law permits the operation of low-speed vehicles on public roads that have certain speed limits. In addition to specifying minimum and maximum speeds for such vehicles,  Alaska law requires that they meet "weight, equipment, and safety standards set by the [D]epartment [of Administration] by regulation; weight, equipment, and safety standards shall be consistent with, and may not exceed, federal standards."The Department of Administration has not promulgated regulations for low-speed vehicles, but federal regulations detail safety standards for them,  and the parties to this appeal agree that, in the absence of state regulations, state law should be interpreted as incorporating these federal standards.
In 2009 David attempted to title and register the Noland car as a low-speed vehicle. He applied at the DMV office in Fairbanks; because he lacked the usual documentation, a DMV employee inspected the vehicle for compliance with safety standards.
The employee did not find a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), any indication that the vehicle came from a manufacturer that follows federal safety standards, or any other visible assurance that the vehicle met those standards. David asked for a second inspection. An Alaska State Trooper took a look at the vehicle, noted its lack of doors, opined that "[i]f you got hit in this, you'd be killed, " and declared the vehicle unsafe to drive on the road. DMV informed the Vonder Haars that the vehicle could not be registered as a low-speed vehicle, though it could be registered for off-road use.
Later in 2009, Paige obtained a surety bond and appraisal for the vehicle and succeeded in having it titled and registered as a low-speed vehicle at a satellite DMV location. The satellite location was operated by a private contractor, who did not ...