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Powers v. New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


July 14, 2009

JOHN F. POWERS, JR., APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY MOTOR VEHICLE COMMISSION, RESPONDENT.

On appeal from a Final Decision of the Motor Vehicle Commission.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted June 8, 2009

Before Carchman and Parrillo.

Appellant, John F. Powers, Jr., appeals from a final determination of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) suspending his New Jersey driver's license for ninety days without a hearing. We affirm.

By way of background, Powers was charged with disregarding a stop sign in Woodbridge Township on March 26, 2008. He was eventually found guilty of the motor vehicle violation. At the time he ran the stop sign, Powers' New Jersey driver's license had been suspended for the period March 18, 2008 through April 1, 2008 for being in arrears for child support and the subject of a child support-related bench warrant. N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.41(a).*fn1 Upon receipt of the record of conviction, on June 22, 2008, the MVC notified Powers that it proposed to suspend his New Jersey driving privileges for 180 days, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 39:3-40, N.J.S.A. 39:5-30 and N.J.A.C. 13:19-10.8, because he operated a motor vehicle during a period of driving privilege suspension. The notice of suspension stated the details of the conviction and the proposed suspension date. Powers was also advised of his right to request a hearing and the format of the hearing request, namely that he detail all disputed material facts, and specify all legal issues.

By letter of July 7, 2008, Powers requested a hearing. Powers did not dispute that he had a New Jersey driver's license that was suspended at the time of the offense and that he was convicted of disregarding stop sign regulations. Rather, his letter merely stated that he was never notified of the suspension action.

By letter of August 20, 2008, the MVC issued its final decision denying Powers' request for a hearing and ordering suspension of his driving privileges for a reduced period of ninety days. As to the former, the MVC found that Powers failed to identify any disputed material facts or legal issues to warrant a hearing, N.J.A.C. 13:19-1.2(d). As to the latter, the MVC found that Powers' driver's license suspension was mandated by law, N.J.S.A. 39:3-40; N.J.S.A. 39:5-30; N.J.A.C. 13:19-10.8.

On appeal, Powers urges, as a ground for reversal, that the agency action was invalid because its failure to grant him a hearing deprived him of due process. We find no merit to Powers' challenge.

It is statutorily mandated that the driver's license of those individuals in arrears for child support "shall be suspended by operation of law upon the issuance of a child support-related warrant." N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.41(a). Equally it is clear that operation of a motor vehicle during a period of driving privilege suspension is prohibited by law, and subjects the violator to punishment, including further suspension of driving privileges. N.J.S.A. 39:3-40.

The Administrative Procedure Act (APA), N.J.S.A. 52:14B-1 to -15, affords licensees an administrative hearing if there are disputed material facts. N.J.S.A. 52:14B-11. See Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535, 539, 91 S.Ct. 1586, 1589, 29 L.Ed. 2d 90, 94 (1971). A contested case hearing is not required where the material facts are not in dispute. State, Div. of Motor Vehicles v. Pepe, 379 N.J. Super. 411, 419 (App. Div. 2005) (no disputed facts or law, therefore, no hearing necessary); Tichenor v. Magee, 4 N.J. Super. 467, 470-71 (App. Div. 1949) (grant of hearing discretionary and not required when out-of-state conviction was undisputed). Neither is a hearing indicated where the State agency is "required by any law to . . . suspend . . . a license . . . without exercising any discretion in the matter," either on the basis of a court's judgment in the matter or by law. N.J.S.A. 52:14B-11; N.J.A.C. 13:19-1.13. See also Pepe, supra, 379 N.J. Super. at 419.

N.J.A.C. 13:19-1.2 sets forth the requirements pertaining to administrative hearing requests. A hearing request must "specify all disputed material facts which the licensee or his or her attorney intends to raise at such hearing." N.J.A.C. 13:19-1.2(d). It must also "set forth all legal issues" intended to be raised as well as "all arguments on those issues which the licensee wishes the [MVC] to consider." Ibid. A hearing will be denied for failure to comply with these requirements. N.J.A.C. 13:19-1.2(e).

Here, Powers has failed to identify any material facts that are in dispute. He does not contest that he was convicted on March 26, 2008 in Woodbridge Township. There is also no dispute that Powers was suspended at the time he committed the motor vehicle offense in Woodbridge Township, and that his suspension in effect was self-executing, by operation of law, as he was the subject of a bench warrant for child support arrears. The fact that he alleges he was never notified of the original suspension does not implicate the validity of agency action here since the responsibility to send notice of suspension to individuals such as Powers rests with the Probation Division, N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.41(a). In any event, MVC sent Powers a confirmation of suspension on March 23, 2008 as a courtesy. Moreover, Powers never challenged the original suspension for want of notice and may not now successfully assert its invalidity here by way of collateral attack. As the licensing authority, the MVC's original suspension of Powers' driver's license as well as the one that is the subject of this appeal, were mandated by law and thus entirely proper.

Affirmed.


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