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Douglas Trautmann, An Infant By His Guardian Ad Litem, Donna Trautmann v. Chris Christie

February 22, 2011

DOUGLAS TRAUTMANN, AN INFANT BY HIS GUARDIAN AD LITEM, DONNA TRAUTMANN AND THOMAS STRUBLE, AN INFANT BY HIS GUARDIAN AD LITEM, JAYNEANN STRUBLE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CHRIS CHRISTIE, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY*FN1 AND STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-1263-09.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Grall, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued October 18, 2010 - Decided Before Judges Grall, C.L. Miniman and LeWinn.

The opinion of the court was delivered by

Chapter 37 of the Laws of 2009 requires drivers who operate a car under the authority of a special learner's permit, examination permit or probationary license issued in this State to display a decal on the car. N.J.S.A. 39:3-13.2a, :3-13, :3-13.4f (as amended by L. 2009, c. 37, §§ 1-3 and L. 2009, c. 38, §§ 5, 6, 9). As applied by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC), only drivers under the age of twenty-one must comply.

Plaintiffs appeal from the dismissal of a complaint, filed on their behalf by their mothers, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on the grounds that Chapter 37 is preempted by the Federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C.S. §§ 2721-2725; violates equal protection; and constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure contrary to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution.*fn2 Finding none of the infirmities alleged, we affirm.

Chapter 37 amends and supplements New Jersey's graduated driver's license system (GDLS), which took effect on January 1, 2001. L. 1998, c. 108, § 13. The purpose of the GDLS is described in a statement issued by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. The "graduated system of licensing [is] designed to phase-in [a driver's] exposure to increasingly complex driving tasks and environments as new drivers mature and develop their driving skills under supervised conditions." Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, Statement to Senate Committee Substitute for S. 318 at 1 (February 23, 1998). It gives new drivers "greater opportunity to get their behind-the-wheel experience under conditions of controlled risk." Ibid. Its purpose is to make a basic license "a privilege" that can be "gained only by demonstrating, in a systematic and progressive manner, conscientious and responsible driving behavior in each stage of licensing." Ibid.

The GDLS requires a new driver to first obtain a permit, either a special learner's permit for those under seventeen or an examination permit for those seventeen and older, and then a probationary license, before applying for a basic license.

N.J.S.A. 39:3-10, :3-13, :3-13.4a. The restrictions on driving privileges imposed through the GDLS vary with the driver's authorization and age. In general and subject to certain exceptions, holders of GDLS authorizations cannot drive between certain hours of the day, cannot drive with more than a certain number of non-parents and non-dependents in the vehicle, cannot use hand-held or hands-free wireless devices and are subject to special sanctions for violating the motor vehicle laws.

N.J.S.A. 39:3-13.2a, :3-13, :3-13.4a.

Chapter 37 mandates that all holders of special learner's permits, examination permits, and probationary licenses display on their vehicles "highly visible, reflective decals" issued by the chief administrator of the MVC indicative of the driver's status in a manner prescribed by the chief administrator so that they are "clearly visible to law enforcement officers."

N.J.S.A. 39:3-13.2a, :3-13, :3-13.4f. Chapter 37's purpose is indicated by its terms - facilitating enforcement of the GDLS restrictions on the privileges of the holders of permits and probationary licenses issued in this State.

Despite Chapter 37's unequivocal requirement that all GDLS holders display the decal, as clarified in supplemental briefs submitted by the parties at our request prior to oral argument, the MVC has determined that only those under twenty-one are obligated to obtain and display the decals. Plaintiffs' challenges are primarily based on the assertion that the mandatory decals disclose private information - their age group. They do not dispute or challenge the MVC's interpretation of Chapter 37.

We question the construction of Chapter 37 urged by the parties. Although the State defendants contend that it is the clear intent of the Legislature for Chapter 37 to only apply to those under twenty-one because the passenger and hour GDLS restrictions are limited to those drivers, we note that one GDLS restriction applies regardless of age. In particular, use of hands-free and hand-held wireless devices is forbidden regardless of the driver's age. N.J.S.A. 39:3-13, :3-13.4c. But because there is no challenge to the MVC's ...


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