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Rita M. Rhyne v. New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission

February 28, 2011


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

Per curiam.


Submitted February 16, 2011 - Decided Before Judges R. B. Coleman and J. N. Harris.

This is an appeal from the final decision of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC), dated January 5, 2010, which suspended Rita Rhyne's driver's license and registration privileges, finding her in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:6-35. We affirm the action of the NJMVC.

The deficient record supports the following factual background.*fn1 Rhyne and William Barbosa were involved in a motor vehicle accident on May 19, 2007. At that time, Barbosa was insured by Encompass Insurance Company of New Jersey (Encompass). Encompass proceeded to pay personal injury protection (PIP) benefits to Barbosa, and also indemnified the owner of the motor vehicle involved in the accident for certain property damage and other covered expenses pursuant to the insurance policy.

In April 2009, Encompass -- in its own right and as subrogee -- filed a civil action in the Special Civil Part seeking damages against Rhyne for the insurance benefits it paid to its insureds. Rhyne did not file an answer to the complaint, and in due course a default judgment in the amount of $15,177.53 was entered against her.

In January 2010, the NJMVC was notified by Encompass's agent that the default judgment was due, unpaid, and owing since

August 2009, a period of more than sixty days. Accordingly, the NJMVC notified Rhyne that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6-35, her driving and registration privileges had been suspended indefinitely pursuant to the statute. This appeal followed.

Meanwhile, as best we can cobble together from Rhyne's pro se brief and appendix, she applied to the Special Civil Part to vacate the default judgment. That application was denied in February 2010. It appears that Rhyne filed a notice of appeal from that determination, but we dismissed her appeal on November 2, 2010, due to a failure of prosecution. See Encompass Ins. Co. v. Rhyne, No. A-3123-09T3 (App. Div. November 3, 2010).

Rhyne does not make any legal arguments challenging the administrative action of the NJMVC. Rhyne's contentions relate to the underlying accident, the consequent civil action, and the enduring default judgment, all of which do not bear upon the NJMVC's discharge of the legislative mandate of N.J.S.A. 39:6-35. Indeed, the agency appropriately applied the statute, which provides:

If a person fails to pay and satisfy every judgment rendered against him for damages because of personal injury or death, or damage to property in excess of $500.00, resulting from the ownership, maintenance, use or operation of a motor vehicle and every judgment based on an agreement or contract made in settlement of damages arising out of a motor vehicle accident, within 60 days after its entry, or if an appeal is taken therefrom within that time, within 60 days after the judgment as entered or modified becomes final, the operator's license and all registration certificates of any such person, other than a chauffeur or operator employed by the owner of a motor vehicle and so acting at the time of the damage, injuries or death resulting in the judgment, shall, upon receiving a certified copy of a transcript of the final judgment from the court in which it was rendered showing it to have been still unsatisfied more than 60 days after it became final, be forthwith suspended by the director.

The license and registration certificates shall remain so suspended and shall not be renewed, nor shall a motor vehicle be thereafter registered in the name of that person while the judgment remains unstayed, unsatisfied, subsisting and until every such judgment is satisfied or discharged, except that in the event that the judgment debtor shall be relieved of liability for payment of said judgment by an adjudication of the court in which the same was entered, or if the right to enforce said judgment by docketing and revival, or by revival, or by bringing an action thereon, shall have expired without such revival or the bringing of any such action thereon, the judgment debtor's license shall be restored to him, and one or more motor vehicles may be registered in his name, upon application to the [NJMVC]. [N.J.S.A. 39:6-35.]

Our role in reviewing the action of an administrative agency such as the NJMVC is limited. Our appellate function is to determine whether the agency's action was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Hemsey v. Bd. of Trs., Police & Firemen's Ret. Sys., 198 N.J. 215, 223-24 (2009); Wnuck v. N.J. Div. of Motor Vehicles, 337 N.J. Super. 52, 56 (App. Div. 2001). Action that implements the plain language of a statute that is within the orbit of an agency's jurisdiction is plainly none of those things.

Additionally, actions of administrative agencies are entitled to a presumption of reasonableness. East Orange Bd. of Educ. v. N.J. Sch. Constr. Corp., 405 N.J. Super. 132, 143 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 199 N.J. 540 (2009) (citing City of Newark v. Natural Res. Council, 82 N.J. 530, 539, cert. denied, 449 U.S. 983, 101 S. Ct. 400, 66 L.Ed. 2d 245 (1980)). We are not otherwise authorized to substitute our ...

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