September 1, 2009
EDWARD L. JONES, APPELLANT,
NEW JERSEY MOTOR VEHICLE COMMISSION, RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted August 25, 2009
Before Judges Sabatino and Chambers.
Plaintiff Edward L. Jones appeals from the order of suspension issued by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (the Commission) dated May 8, 2008, suspending his driver's license for a period of 270 days. He argues that the suspension should be reversed for the following reasons:
I, Edward Jones was informed that my license suspensions from 2/04/08-4/04/08 were combined. This was explained to me at the appeal hearing in Newark, NJ on Washington Street. Unbeknown to me, this fact was false. On 2/04/08 my license was suspended for 60 days for failure to appear at a hearing I was unaware of. I immediately went to motor vehicle in Wayne, NJ to rectify this matter. At this time, I was told that all I would have to do is pay a $100.00 fee to re-instate my license, which I did. I asked if this fee would take care of both suspensions and was told "yes", this would satisfy both. On May 27, 2008, I received a letter in the mail stating that due to abandonment of a hearing on 2/04/08, my license was suspended for 270 days. This letter was dated 5/08/08 from the Motor Vehicle Commission Drivers Management Bureau. I did not receive this letter until Tuesday, May 27, 2008.
Jones also contends that family members have been using his name when they receive traffic tickets, thereby explaining the numerous traffic tickets he has received.
The 270 days suspension at issue in this appeal arises from three traffic tickets issued to Jones in 2006 for speeding. The first ticket, issued on April 17, 2006, was for a two point speeding violation. Since Jones had already accumulated seventeen points, this ticket brought his point total to nineteen points. As a result, the Commission sent Jones a Scheduled Suspension Notice indicating that his driving privilege was scheduled to be suspended for sixty days. On April 20, 2006, Jones received a five point speeding ticket for speeding in excess of thirty miles per hour over the speed limit. Since this violation brought his motor vehicle penalty points to twenty-four, the Commission sent him a Scheduled Suspension Notice stating that his driving privilege would be suspended for ninety days. On October 17, 2006, Jones received another five point speeding violation for driving in excess of thirty miles per hour over the speed limit. This violation brought his motor vehicle penalty point total to twenty-nine points. As a result, the Commission sent him a Scheduled Suspension Notice indicating a scheduled suspension of 120 days.
Jones wrote to the Commission appealing one of the tickets; the Commission treated the letter as an appeal of all three tickets. The Commission thereafter held a conference with Jones and offered to settle the matter. Jones refused this offer and signed the conference report, specifically initialing the language indicating that he rejected the offer. Jones failed to appear at the subsequent January 14, 2008 hearing on the appeal. As a result, the Commission imposed a 270 day suspension. Imposition of this disposition has been stayed, pending this appeal.
When reviewing an agency decision, we must determine whether the agency followed the law, whether substantial evidence in the record supports the decision, and "whether in applying the legislative policies to the facts, the agency clearly erred in reaching a conclusion that could not reasonably have been made on a showing of the relevant factors." In re Herrmann, 192 N.J. 19, 28 (2007) (quoting Mazza v. Bd. of Trs., 143 N.J. 22, 25 (1995)). We give "substantial deference to the agency's expertise and superior knowledge of a particular field." Ibid. The agency's decision will not be overturned unless it is "arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or... lacks fair support in the record." Id. at 27-28.
The New Jersey motor vehicle point system has long been a part of the State's regulatory system of drivers. See No Illegal Points, Citizens for Drivers Rights, Inc. v. Florio, 264 N.J. Super. 318, 323-28 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 134 N.J. 479 (1993) (setting forth the history of this regulatory system). The point system, authorized by statute and set forth in the administrative regulations, assesses a particular number of points to specific motor vehicle infractions. N.J.S.A. 39:5-30.5; N.J.A.C. 13:19-10.1. In addition, a driver who accumulates an excessive amount of points may have his license suspended. N.J.S.A. 39:5-30. The regulations set forth a schedule indicating the period of suspension that will be imposed, absent good cause, when a particular number of points has been accumulated in a given time period. N.J.A.C. 13:19-10.2(a).
The periods of suspension imposed upon Jones fall within the parameters of N.J.A.C. 13:19-10.2(a). Specifically, absent good cause, the regulations provide for a sixty day license suspension for a driver who has accumulated nineteen to twenty-two points in a period greater than two years; a ninety day license suspension for a driver who has accumulated twenty-three to twenty-six points in a period greater than two years; and a 120 day license suspension for a driver who has accumulated twenty-seven to thirty points in a period greater than two years. N.J.A.C. 13:19-10.2(a)(8), (9), (10).
Further, in evaluating the Commission's disposition, we also consider Jones's egregious driving record over two decades, consisting of multiple driving violations and multiple suspensions of both his regular and commercial licenses. Since the 270 day suspension for the three tickets falls within the parameters of the governing statute and regulations and in light of Jones's unfortunate driving history, we find no abuse of discretion here. While we recognize the burden that the loss of driving privileges imposes upon Jones and those who rely upon him for transportation, the operation of a motor vehicle is a privilege and not a right. State v. Kabayama, 94 N.J. Super. 78, 82 (Cty. Ct.), aff'd, 98 N.J. Super. 85 (App. Div. 1967), aff'd o.b., 52 N.J. 507 (1968). In addition, Jones's persistent failure to abide by the traffic laws imposes a risk upon those who traverse our roads.
We reject Jones's contention that he had reached a settlement of a sixty day suspension. The written conference report, signed and initialed by him refusing the Commission's settlement offer of a sixty day suspension, contradicts that assertion.
We also find no merit in Jones's argument that the suspension should be overturned because family members have been receiving tickets in his name. He offers no proof to support this assertion which should have been raised before the municipal court. See State v. Latorre, 228 N.J. Super. 314, 317 (App. Div. 1988) (stating that "[j]urisdiction to try motor vehicle violations... is conferred upon the municipal courts"); cf. State v. Ferrier, 294 N.J. Super. 198, 200 (App. Div. 1996) (holding that an order of suspension is an administrative decision that can not be attacked "collaterally as a defense to a charge of" committing a motor vehicle violation), certif. denied, 148 N.J. 461 (1997).
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