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The jurisdiction is the State of Maryland in the USA, should that fact be of interest.

A friend of mine is involved in intractable dispute with the co-owner of a car. I'll call my friend Abe, and the other party Bella. All the agreements involved are handshake only. Abe inadvisedly co-signed a loan for Bella so she could buy an auto about 6 months ago. The deal was that Bella would make the payments on the car and would keep the car after the loan was paid off.

Of course the inevitable occurred and Bella stopped making payments. Bella also refuses to make the car available so it can be sold off to minimize Abe's losses. Thus the car will end up going into repossession and the cost of the repossession will be added to the loss column for Abe. Bella has terrible credit, so she has nothing to fear in that department. Bella is also a veteran thief and con artist with a long rap sheet and is currently on probation.

A further perplexing wrinkle that I don't really understand is that the MVA is refusing to issue title, tags, or registration. When I asked the MVA why they would only say there was an "insurance violation". Thus Bella is driving the car with long-expired temporary tags and probably no insurance. Both are listed on the title application, with Bella as the primary owner.

If Abe sued Bella to force Bella to do something sensible, like either make payments or surrender the car, what reasoning would the court use to evaluate the competing claims? Abe will say Bella was supposed to pay everything and Bella will say they were supposed to pay 50/50, or maybe even 5 Bella/95 Abe. If Bella could get away with it she'd say the car was a gift from Abe, but Bella also co-signed the loan so I doubt that would fly.

Bella will certainly ignore any judgement against her, but I don't that's relevant to the question. Also not relevant, Abe's current plan is to simply let the car get repossessed and eat the losses.

  • What exactly is your question? Is it "...what reasoning would the court use to evaluate the competing claims?" – BlueDogRanch Jan 17 at 17:21
  • @BlueDogRanch: Yes. Sorry for burying the lead. – President James Moveon Polk Jan 17 at 18:41
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what reasoning would the court use to evaluate the competing claims?

Absent a verifiable contract, the dispute would require assessment of the extrinsic evidence and/or of other aspects reflecting the parties' credibility. Those types of factors would help for discerning whose position is meritorious.

You are right in that Bella's co-signing of the loan is likely to render her hypothetical allegation of gift not credible.

Bella's history of defaulting on her debts as well as her failure to keep up with insurance & tags are examples of prior act evidence. As such, these might be inadmissible for proving that she entered the contract with Abe. However, they are admissible both for proving Bella's pattern of missing her commitments and possibly for detecting inconsistencies in Bella's allegations (thereby weakening Bella's credibility).

Unless Bella is able to point greater inconsistencies or weaknesses in Abe's credibility, a competent and honest court (where available) would rule in favor of Abe.

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"...what reasoning would the court use to evaluate the competing claims?"

I'm assuming civil court, because even though you say Bella is on probation, you haven't indicated a prosecutor and/or criminal court is involved.

In civil court, evidentiary rules are different than criminal; some past history might be inadmissible. And there are only six jurors instead of twelve; but most of the time, the jury’s verdict must still be unanimous.

So Abe could sue Bella for monetary damages; the jury and/or the judge weighs evidence and testimony, and you take your chances with a jury who might be sympathetic to Bella for some reason. More than likely, Abe gets a judgement against Bella. And that may be the end of the story, until the next crime or scam.

But if you informed Bella's probation officer of the situation, it may turn into probation violation, or enough of a criminal case that a prosecutor would gt involved. That doesn't mean Abe will get any money back, but it may mean that Bella is sentenced to make restitution.

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  • Thanks. We are trying to find out who Bella's probation officer is. – President James Moveon Polk Jan 17 at 19:43
  • Abe has some medical issues which make him ripe for abuse by the Bellas of the world. Abe's lawyer is looking into Maryland criminal statutes designed to protect "vulnerable adults". Given the value of the co-signed loan (about $25k) and the amount that will remain due after the repo costs and sale of the repo-ed vehicle, and the fact that Bella will ignore court results that go against her, it seems that going that route will likely cost more than it recovers. So I was just curious about what evidence would be admissible in civil court if this ever got that far. – President James Moveon Polk Jan 18 at 16:52

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