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Williams v. Sills

Decided: January 19, 1970.


For remandment -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Jacobs, J. Weintraub, C.J., (concurring).


[55 NJ Page 179] The plaintiff filed a complaint in the Chancery Division seeking (1) a declaration that N.J.S.A. 39:6-25 is unconstitutional and (2) a restraint against its enforcement. The court found the statute to be constitutional and vacated

the interim restraints which it had granted. The plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Division and we certified the matter while it was awaiting argument there.

The plaintiff was the owner and operator of an automobile which was involved in an accident on July 5, 1968. She says that she had stopped in a traffic line, that her car was struck in the rear by a car which had itself been struck, and that she in turn struck the car ahead of her. An accident report was filed with the Division of Motor Vehicles by Mrs. Burton, the owner of one of the vehicles involved in the accident, and the Division evaluated the damage to the Burton vehicle and its occupants in the sum of $400. The plaintiff's automobile was not covered by any liability insurance and under date of October 25, 1968 the Division notified the plaintiff that, under N.J.S.A. 39:6-25 her license would be suspended unless, on or before November 11, 1968, she either deposited $400 "as security to cover any judgment or judgments for damages resulting from the accident" or filed a "release from liability" or a "settlement agreement." The November 11 deadline was apparently extended to November 25.

The plaintiff did not deposit any security or file any release or settlement agreement but on November 27 filed a complaint in the Chancery Division and obtained an order to show cause with interim restraints. The December 6 return date of the order to show cause was extended to December 13 by consent of the parties. On December 2 the Division of Motor Vehicles notified the attorney for the plaintiff that if an administrative hearing was desired a convenient date therefor would be fixed. Under date of December 5, the attorney for the plaintiff notified the Division that there was no dispute as to her being an uninsured motorist who was involved in an accident resulting in damage in excess of $200 and that "she respectfully declines the opportunity to have an administrative hearing in this matter."

On the adjourned return date of the order to show cause the Chancery Division, after having heard argument and having considered the briefs submitted by the parties, delivered

an oral opinion which found N.J.S.A. 39:6-25 to be a reasonable exercise of the State's police power and which specifically noted that the plaintiff had rejected the opportunity to be heard administratively before any suspension of her license would take effect. The Chancery Division duly entered its judgment and, following the filing of a notice of appeal, ordered that further proceedings to enforce the judgment be stayed pending the outcome of the appeal.

N.J.S.A. 39:6-25 is part and parcel of the Motor Vehicle Security-Responsibility Law which was adopted in our State in 1952. See L. 1952, c. 173; N.J.S.A. 39:6-23 et seq. The Law was modeled largely on the provisions of the Uniform Vehicle Code and has counterparts in substantially all of the states. See Kesler v. Department of Public Safety, 369 U.S. 153, 82 S. Ct. 807, 7 L. Ed. 2 d 641 (1962). Its principal design was to protect the public against financially irresponsible motorists. To that end it admittedly could have required that all motorists carry liability insurance (see Ex parte Poresky, 290 U.S. 30, 32, 54 S. Ct. 3, 78 L. Ed. 152, 153 (1933)); instead it took the lesser course of requiring that if a motorist who is uninsured is involved in an accident resulting in more than $100 ($200 since 1967) damage to another, his license shall be suspended unless he deposits security, in an amount fixed by the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles, to cover any judgment resulting from the accident or files a release from liability or a settlement agreement. This requirement has been the subject of repeated constitutional attacks throughout the states but has widely withstood them in the reported cases. See State v. Finley, 198 Kan. 585, 426 P. 2 d 251 (1967); Farmer v. Killingsworth, 102 Ariz. 44, 424 P. 2d 172 (1967); Turmon v. State Dept. of Public Safety, 222 Ga. 843, 152 S.E. 2 d 884 (1967); Adams v. City of Pocatello, 91 Idaho 99, 416 P. 2d 46 (1966); Larson v. Warren, 132 So. 2d 177 (Fla. 1961), appeal dismissed, 369 U.S. 427, 82 S. Ct. 879, 8 L. Ed. 2d 7 (1962); Velletri v. Lussier, 88 R.I. 352, 148 A.2d 360 (1959); Bookbinder v. Hults, 19 Misc. 2d 1062, 192 N.Y.S. 2d 331 (Sup.

Ct. 1959); Sharp v. Dept. of Public Safety, 114 So. 2d 121 (La. Ct. App. 1959); Montgomery v. Blazek, 161 Neb. 349, 73 N.W. 2d 402 (1955); Franklin v. Scurlock, 224 Ark. 168, 272 S.W. 2d 62 (1954); State v. Stehlek, 262 Wis. 642, 56 N.W. 2d 514 (1953); Gillaspie v. Dept. of Public Safety, 152 Tex. 459, 259 S.W. 2d 177 (1953); Doyle v. Kahl, 242 Iowa 153, 46 N.W. 2d 52 (1951); Ballow v. Reeves, 238 S.W. 2 d 141 (Ky. Ct. App. 1951); Escobedo v. State Dept. of Motor Vehicles, 35 Cal. 2d 870, 222 P. 2d 1 (1950); De Vries v. Alger, 329 Mich. 68, 44 N.W. 2d 872 (1950); Rosenblum v. Griffin, 89 N.H. 314, 197 A. 701 (1938); see also Annotation, "Validity of motor vehicle financial responsibility act," 35 A.L.R. 2d 1011 (1954); but see People v. Nothaus, 147 Colo. 210, 363 P. 2d 180 (1961).

The plaintiff suggests that the many cases upholding the financial responsibility requirement rested on the notion that motor vehicle licenses are privileges which are not entitled to the protection afforded to property rights, a notion rejected by us in Bechler v. Parsekian, 36 N.J. 242, 256-257 (1961). While it is true that some of the cited cases spoke in terms of privilege, others clearly spoke in the same terms as did Bechler. Thus in Berberian v. Lussier, 87 R.I. 226, 139 A.2d 869 (1958), the Rhode Island Supreme Court explicitly acknowledged that a motor vehicle license was more than a mere privilege and was entitled to the constitutional guarantees; it held that "whatever may be its nature" it was constitutionally subject to the requirements of the State's financial responsibility statute. 139 A.2d, at 872. See also Escobedo v. State Dept. of Motor Vehicles, supra, 222 P. 2d, at 5; Schecter v. Killingsworth, 93 Ariz. 273, 380 P. 2 d 136, 140 (1963).

The court in Berberian dealt with and disposed of due process and equal protection contentions similar to those advanced by the plaintiff here. On the due process attack, it pointed out that the purpose of the statute was to promote the welfare of the people "by minimizing the hardship ...

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