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NO Illegal Points v. Florio

Decided: April 20, 1993.

NO ILLEGAL POINTS, CITIZENS FOR DRIVERS RIGHTS, INC., JAMES HENNING, ARLENE MEHLMAN, DOROTHY HAINES, ROBERT DAVIS, JR., ANTHONY HESSE, ROBERT HEFTY, ROBERT RYERSON, MARK DE FRINO AND BERNARD LAUFGAS, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
JIM FLORIO, GOVERNOR, SKIP LEE, DIRECTOR OF DIVISION OF MOTOR VEHICLES, SAMUEL FORTUNATO, COMMISSIONER OF INSURANCE, NEW JERSEY AUTOMOBILE FULL INSURANCE UNDERWRITING ASSOCIATION, MARKET TRANSITIONAL FACILITY, ROBERT J. DEL TUFO, ATTORNEY GENERAL AND THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Petrella, D'Annunzio and Keefe. The opinion of the court was delivered by Keefe, J.A.D.

Keefe

The issue presented by this appeal is whether the Division of Motor Vehicles (hereinafter D.M.V.) exceeds its statutory authority when it assesses points to a New Jersey licensed driver for motor vehicle violations occurring within the State of New Jersey. The matter arises out of a suit brought by a public interest group, No Illegal Points, Citizens for Drivers' Rights, Inc., a non-profit New Jersey Corporation, and nine individual drivers, in which they contend that only courts are permitted to assess points for motor vehicle violations occurring within the State pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:5-30.6.*fn1 For the reasons stated herein, we conclude that the D.M.V. has not exceeded its statutory authority.

The action was originally instituted in the Chancery Division, by a complaint which demanded judgment:

a) Restraining all defendants from compiling information pertaining to driver's license points without direct verification of such penalties having been assessed by a Judge in open court.

b) Restraining all defendants from processing, implementing or maintaining any administrative suspensions of a New Jersey drivers license without direct verification of the assessment of the requisite point penalties by a Judge in an open Court in the State of New Jersey.

c) Ordering the defendants to refund all surcharges, fees, premiums and costs which were assessed to the persons represented by the plaintiffs without verification of the existence of points having been assessed to such persons by a Judge in Open Court since January 1, 1983.

d) Awarding damages to the plaintiffs in an amount sufficient to compensate them for injury suffered as a result of misconduct and malfeasance on the part of the defendants along with reasonable attorney's fees and costs of this suit.

The Chancery Division Judge denied plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction, but required the D.M.V. to show cause why it should not be enjoined from suspending driving privileges for accumulated points based on in-state convictions where points were assessed by the D.M.V. instead of in open court.

At the subsequent hearing on the Order to Show Cause, the Judge determined that plaintiffs' suit was a challenge to an action of a state administrative agency, and transferred the matter to the Appellate Division pursuant to R. 1:13-4 and R. 2:2-3(a)(2). Plaintiffs do not challenge that transfer. Because the challenge presented by plaintiffs is to a long-standing practice of the D.M.V., rather than any particular decision of the Director, we question whether the transfer was appropriate. However, since the parties have not shown any need to develop a more complete record,*fn2 and the issue presented is a question of statutory interpretation in light of the record presented, we shall address the substantive issues.

I.

Plaintiffs first contend that N.J.S.A. 39:5-30.6, enacted in 1982, expressly removed the function of assessing points for in-state Title 39 convictions from the D.M.V., and vested sole responsibility for such action in the municipal courts. The statutory provision upon which plaintiffs rely provides:

The court shall assess points at the time of conviction for any offense committed in this State, and the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles in the Department of Law and Public Safety shall, upon receiving notice, assess points for any conviction

occurring in another jurisdiction. The court shall transmit a record of all points assessed, along with the record of conviction to the director. The director shall maintain records of all points assessed in a manner which he shall prescribe. In addition to any requirements the director may prescribe, the record shall include the respective dates of commission and conviction of the offense or offenses.

Read literally, the statutory language supports plaintiffs' argument. However, defendants respond that the legislative history relevant to the 1982 amendments supports the D.M.V.'s interpretation and long-standing practice both prior to and since 1982, wherein points are assessed by the D.M.V.

In construing a statute, the goal of the court is to ascertain the intent of the Legislature with reasonable certainty. Division of Motor Vehicles v. Kleinert, 198 N.J. Super. 363, 369, 486 A.2d 1324 (App.Div.1985). The source of legislative intent is not limited to the language of the statute. In addition to the wording of the statute, the policy behind it and the legislative scheme of which it is a part, as well as the legislative history and concepts of reasonableness, are essential aids in determining legislative intent. Paramus Substantive Certification No. 47 (Fanwood Bill), 249 N.J. Super. 1, 591 A.2d 1345 (App.Div.1991); Coletti v. Un. Co., C. Freeholders, 217 N.J. Super. 31, 524 A.2d 1270 (App.Div.1987). Courts will enforce legislative intent even when it conflicts with the language of the statute. Longworth v. Van Houten, 223 N.J. Super. 174, 192-93, 538 A.2d 414 (App.Div. 1988). See also N.J. Builders, Owners and Managers Ass'n v. Blair, 60 N.J. 330, 338, 288 A.2d 855 (1972) (holding that "[w]here a literal rendering will lead to a result not in accord with the essential purpose and design of the act, the spirit of the law will control the letter."); and Henry v. Shopper's World, 200 N.J. Super. 14, 18, 490 A.2d 320 (App.Div.1985) (holding that "[a] statute must be interpreted sensibly, rather than literally, with the purpose and reason for the legislation being controlling.")

The New Jersey point system has been administered by the D.M.V. since its inception. In Allen v. Strelecki, 50 N.J. 410, 412-14, 236 A.2d 129 (1967), the Supreme Court described the way in which the point system operated at that time.

Some years ago the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles adopted a "Point System Regulation" under which "points" are assessed against a licensed driver upon violation of various sections of the statutes governing operation of motor vehicles. The number of points imposed varies depending upon the type of infraction.

The relevant portions of the D.M.V.'s regulation in force at that time said:

The New Jersey point system is a driver corrective measure designed to discipline traffic law violation repeaters. It operates exclusively from the central office of the Division of Motor Vehicles, in Trenton. The driver records which form the basis for action against repeaters are traffic law convictions in the magistrates' courts which the law requires the courts to report to the division. Traffic law convictions of New Jersey drivers in other States and Canadian Provinces likewise become a part of the operator's record.

A driver amassing 12 or more points within a three year period dating from the latest violation, becomes subject to a hearing before the Director, in Trenton, on a rule to show cause why his driving privilege should not be revoked.

[ Id. at 413, 236 A.2d 129.]

Thus the D.M.V. had exclusive control over the point system. Upon the forwarding of a report of conviction by the court, the scheduled points were assessed against the driver ...


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