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Minoosh Fathollahi v. New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


June 3, 2011

MINOOSH FATHOLLAHI, APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY MOTOR VEHICLE COMMISSION, RESPONDENT.

On appeal from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, Department of Transportation.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 17, 2011

Before Judges Payne and Baxter.

Appellant Minoosh Fathollahi appeals from an April 15, 2010 order of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) that suspended her drivers license and automobile registration privileges indefinitely in accordance with the provisions of N.J.S.A. 39:6-35 because she failed to satisfy a Law Division judgment obtained by Eagle Insurance Company (Eagle) as subrogee. We affirm.

I.

On August 16, 2001, appellant rear ended a vehicle owned by Miguel Soraino, and driven by Yecenia Vasquez-Cortez. At the time of the accident, appellant's car was unregistered and uninsured. Soraino's vehicle was insured by Eagle, and pursuant to the uninsured motorist provisions of Soraino's policy, Eagle paid a total of $21,049.51 for the personal injuries sustained by Vasquez-Cortez and for the damage to Soraino's vehicle. Consequently, Eagle filed a subrogation action against appellant, which resulted in a January 4, 2008 default judgment in the amount of $21,049.51. Fathollahi appealed, and we upheld the monetary judgment against her. Eagle Ins. Co. v. Fathollahi, No. A-1644-07 (App. Div. July 23, 2009). She did not seek certification from the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Thereafter, MVC learned that appellant had not satisfied the January 4, 2008 judgment. Accordingly, on April 15, 2010, MVC notified her that her driving and registration privileges had been suspended indefinitely pursuant to both N.J.S.A. 39:5-30 and N.J.S.A. 39:6-35.

On appeal, Fathollahi raises the following claims:

I. DRIVER[S] LICENSES ARE PROPERTY RIGHTS PROTECTED BY DUE PROCESS AS A MATTER OF LAW.

II. THE DECISION OF THE NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLE COMMISSION ON APRIL 15, 2010 TO SUSPEND APPELLANT'S DRIVER[S] LICENSE INDEFINITELY WAS IMPROPERLY ORDERED AND SHOULD BE REVERSED.

III. NO ATTORNEY CLIENT RELATIONSHIP EXISTS BETWEEN THE OFFICE OF CLARK & DISTEFANO, P.C. AND THE LIQUIDATOR OF EAGLE INSURANCE COMPANY.

II.

In Point I, Fathollahi argues that because a drivers license is a property right the revocation of which cannot be accomplished without a hearing, the suspension of her license by MVC was unlawful because MVC did not afford her a hearing. Fathollahi is correct that the drivers license suspension process must comport with due process. Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535, 539, 91 S. Ct. 1586, 1589, 29 L. Ed. 2d 90, 94 (1971);

N.J.S.A. 52:14B-11. However, no such hearing is required if a State agency is "required by any law to . . . suspend . . . a license . . . without exercising any discretion in the matter[.]" N.J.S.A. 52:14B-11; N.J.A.C. 13:19-1.13(c). We turn therefore to an analysis of whether MVC was required by statute to suspend appellant's drivers license and registration privileges.

As MVC correctly argues, the suspension of Fathollahi's drivers license and registration privilege by MVC was indeed mandatory because she failed to satisfy the monetary judgment within sixty days of our affirmance of the judgment on July 23, 2009:

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 . . . 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 . . . 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 unsatisfied more than 60 days after it became final, be forthwith suspended by the director. [N.J.S.A. 39:6-35 (emphasis added).]

The record demonstrates that our affirmance of the monetary judgment against Fathollahi occurred on July 23, 2009. When she had not satisfied that judgment within the sixty days specified by N.J.S.A. 39:6-35, MVC was required by that statute to suspend her drivers license and registration privileges. The statute affords MVC no discretion. As we have noted, N.J.S.A. 52:14B-11 specifies that any mandatory suspension of a privilege or a right is to be accomplished without a hearing. In light of that statute, MVC was entitled to proceed in exactly the fashion it did. We therefore reject the claim appellant advances in Point

I.

III.

In Point II, appellant maintains that the indefinite suspension of her drivers license was improper and must be reversed. In support of that argument, and relying on "N.J.S.A. 17:30C-1 et. seq.," she maintains that the insolvency of Eagle, and the liquidation of its assets, resulted in the Department of Banking and Insurance being appointed as liquidator. She therefore contends that the only party with standing to assert or continue to maintain a claim on behalf of Eagle was the Deputy Liquidator. Her argument is meritless.

The applicable statute, N.J.S.A. 39:6-37, specifies that when an insurance company has become insolvent or bankrupt, the judgment debtor, here Fathollahi, shall not be subject to the suspension of her driving privileges by reason of an unpaid judgment. However, because Fathollahi had no insurance at the time of the accident, she is not entitled to the safe harbor provisions of N.J.S.A. 39:6-37. By its very terms, the statute's prohibition on suspending the driving privileges of the judgment debtor is only applicable when "the judgment debtor . . . was insured in [sic] an insurance company[.]" Thus, because Fathollahi was uninsured, the insolvency and liquidation of Eagle is of no consequence. We therefore reject the claim she advances in Point II.

IV.

In Point III, appellant maintains that the attorney representing Eagle in the Law Division during the proceedings that resulted in the entry of a judgment against her "had no client . . . by virtue of [Eagle's] liquidation status." Even if this is true, appellant should have raised that claim at the time Eagle was proceeding against her in the Law Division. As we have noted, Eagle was able to obtain its judgment against her by default. By defaulting, appellant forfeited the opportunity to raise the claim that the "law firm representing Eagle had no client." Having failed to raise that claim in the forum in which such claim should have been asserted, she is barred from collaterally attacking the judgment now.

Affirmed.

20110603

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