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Garrah v. State

Decided: December 7, 1993.


On appeal from a Decision of the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles

Pressler, Dreier and Brochin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brochin, J.A.D. Dreier, J.A.D. Concurring.


[268 NJSuper Page 579] On June 20, 1987, L.C. McGarrah was convicted of violating N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4a by refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test. His New Jersey driver's license was suspended for two years pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4a, and he was required to pay an

insurance surcharge of $1000 a year for three years. N.J.S.A. 17:29A-35b(2)

To date, Mr. McGarrah has paid only $305 in total on account of the surcharge. His driver's license has therefore been suspended "until the surcharge is paid to the Division of Motor Vehicles . . . ." Ibid. According to the terms of the statute, "upon satisfactory showing of indigency, the Division of Motor Vehicles may authorize payment of the surcharge on an installment basis over a period not to exceed 10 months." Ibid. To regain his driver's license immediately by taking advantage of this installment plan, Mr. McGarrah would, according to the Division's calculations, have to make an initial payment of $715 and then pay $198 a month for ten months.*fn1 Alternatively, the Division would accept whatever payments Mr. McGarrah makes and would restore his driving privileges when he has paid the full amount of the surcharge.

Mr. McGarrah claims -- and we accept his claim for the purpose of this opinion -- that his sole income, which he depends on for the support of himself and his minor son, is $523.80 a month. Consequently, he cannot pay the balance which he owes for the surcharges either in ten monthly installments or within any foreseeable additional time. His license therefore remains suspended and, he contends, will continue to be suspended indefinitely.

The substance of Mr. McGarrah's argument is that, as applied to him, conditioning the restoration of his driver's license on his paying a $3000 insurance surcharge either in ten monthly installments within ten months of its suspension or in full over some longer period deprives him of his rights to due process and to equal protection of the laws. His rights to procedural due process were violated, he claims, because he was not accorded a hearing at

which to prove that his inability to pay the surcharge within a ten-month period would prevent him from regaining his license at the end of its two-year suspension. Mr. McGarrah claims that his rights to substantive due process were violated because, even if he had been given a hearing and had proved his indigency, N.J.S.A. 17:29A-35b(2) would not provide him with any relief. He is deprived of equal protection of the laws, he claims, because making the time when a suspended driver can regain his license dependent solely on the driver's ability to pay the surcharges is arbitrary and unreasonable.

We reject these arguments and therefore affirm.

Procedural due process requires that someone faced with the deprivation of a significant right be accorded the opportunity for a hearing at which to prove material, contested facts. Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 332-35, 96 S. Ct. 893, 901-02, 47 L. Ed. 2d 18, 31-33 (1976). If there are no material facts in dispute, a hearing is useless and unnecessary. See Dixon v. Love, 431 U.S. 105, 113-15, 97 S. Ct. 1723, 1727-29, 52 L. Ed. 2d 172, 180-81 (1977) (there is no right to a hearing or other procedure in connection with suspension of a driver's license where the revocation is based on violations of traffic laws which have been established through the judicial process). In the present case, Mr. McGarrah was offered a hearing. Presumably he did not accept the offer because, under the statutory scheme, there were no material facts in dispute. Proof of his indigency would not have authorized the Division of Motor Vehicles to restore his license upon any condition more favorable to him than the ten-month installment plan provided by the statute.

The insurance surcharges imposed pursuant to N.J.S.A. 17:29A-35(b) are modeled on those previously assessed by the private insurance industry. Dept. of Law & Public Safety v. Bigham, 119 N.J. 646, 652-55, 575 A.2d 868 (1990). They were intended to remedy the previously prevailing lack of uniformity in surcharges assessed by different companies, and ...

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