General — 19 January 2016 — by Rowland A. Parks
$90,000 claim against car dealer for stolen vehicle dismissed

BELIZE CITY, Fri. Jan. 15, 2016–An American couple whose high-end SUV which they bought in Belize was confiscated while on a visit to Chetumal, Mexico, filed a civil suit against a Belizean car dealer for $90,000, claiming that he sold them a stolen vehicle, but they had their claim dismissed today by Supreme Court Justice, Madam Shona Griffith.

The case was heard on December 8, 2015 and on December 18, written submissions were made. In the conclusion of her 10-page judgment today, Justice Griffith writes: “The evidence in support of the claim has not been adequately established to the Court and the claim is dismissed.”

In claim number 138 of 2013, Charles and Marina Rublee, the claimants, were seeking to recover $90,000 that they had paid to Angel Riverol, the defendant, for a Toyota Sequoia that was taken away by Mexican authorities, who claimed that it was stolen from the United States.

Riverol, however, in resisting the claim, maintained that he imported the vehicle legally into Belize and had traveled to Chetumal in it and had no difficulties with Mexican authorities.
In April 2012, the Rublees traded in a vehicle they had bought from Riverol for the Toyota Sequoia.

In January, 2013, however, Marina Rublee was detained in Chetumal and when the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) was checked, Mexican authorities allegedly discovered that it had 3 different VIN’s in three different areas, and more importantly, it was listed in the Mexican authority’s database as being a vehicle stolen from the United States.

Due to the nature of civil litigation, the legal burden of proof falls on the plaintiff, who must prove his allegation to an acceptable legal standard. It is in this regard that the Rublees’ case fell short, as Madam Justice Griffith’s judgment highlighted in her “analysis of the evidence.”

The judge noted that the purchase and registration of the vehicle took place in Belize. The events in Chetumal, Mexico, which form the basis of the claim, are in Justice Griffith’s words, “for the most part unsatisfactory.”

“Records were produced in Spanish, which were not well-translated,” said the judge, who also characterized as “hearsay,” the evidence that the claimants were relying on in support of the events and assertions in Mexico.

“The evidence produced by the claimants included unclear printouts of images said to be photographs taken by the 2nd claimant of the vehicle’s multiple VINs. Written notations were made on the images concerning the contents, but by whose hand is unknown. Photocopies with no account of originals were presented of several documents…” she said.

“With respect to what became of the vehicle, this was not part of the evidence-in-chief of either claimant, but under cross-examination, it was asserted that the vehicle was with an insurance company in Florida, United States, and that a letter from the insurance company had been provided to the court,” the judgment said.

Justice Griffith said, “No official from Mexico gave evidence, nor was there any official report from any authorized agency in Mexico issued in respect of the status of the vehicle.”

The difficulty in this case is that the evidence appears to indicate that the defendant lawfully imported a vehicle into Belize, which was cleared by Belizean law enforcement officials.

The circumstances giving rise to the allegation that the vehicle was stolen occurred outside of the jurisdiction of the Belize court and there was no change to the status of the vehicle made by Belizean law enforcement, the judge said.

The evidence as to what was the actual or official VIN of the vehicle was hearsay, and the method of attributing what was alleged to be the stolen vehicle’s VIN to the Sequoia was not factually established, the judge said.

Justice Griffith said that if the conclusion of the Mexican law enforcement had been adopted by Belizean law enforcement, “the court would have been inclined to accept the allegation that the vehicle was stolen.” However, she went on to state, “Aside from not having any contrary position by law enforcement officials in Belize, it is considered that the presentation of facts occurring outside the Court’s physical jurisdiction, which contradicts an official finding within its jurisdiction, cannot properly be accepted on the basis of hearsay evidence.

Breach of the defendant’s implied condition as to his title to sell the Toyota Sequoia has not been established.”

Attorney Leo Bradley, Jr., represented the Rublees, while attorney Oscar Selgado represented Riverol.

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