On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 418 N.J. Super. 559 (2011).
(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).
Douglas Trautmann v. Chris Christie (A-16) (067705)
(NOTE: This Court wrote no full opinion in this case. Rather, the Court's affirmance of the judgment is based substantially on the reasons expressed in the opinion of the Appellate Division, which is published at 418 N.J. Super. 559 (2011).)
Argued May 8, 2012 -- Decided August 6, 2012
In this appeal, the Court determines the validity of Chapter 37 of the Laws of 2009, "Kyleigh's Law."
New Jersey's graduated driver's license system (GDLS) requires a new driver to first obtain a permit and then a probationary license, before applying for a basic license. In general, 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, and cannot use wireless devices. GDLS supports safety on the roadways by phasing-in new drivers' exposure to driving tasks and environments under supervised conditions. Chapter 37 facilitates enforcement of GDLS restrictions by requiring individuals who are driving pursuant to permits or probationary licenses to display "removable, transferable, highly visible, reflective decals" on their vehicles. As applied by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, only drivers under the age of twenty-one must obtain and display the decals.
Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief on the grounds that Chapter 37 is preempted by the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C.A. §§ 2721-2725; violates equal protection; and constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure. The trial court dismissed plaintiffs' complaint and the Appellate Division affirmed. The panel found that the decal requirement is not preempted by the federal statute because disclosure of a person's age group is not "personal information" under the Act; that the decal requirement does not violate equal protection because it is a rational and suitable means of furthering a legitimate and appropriate government interest; and that the decal requirement does not give rise to an unreasonable search and seizure because a driver has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her age group and an officer's examination of the decal is not a "search." The Court granted certification. 208 N.J. 369 (2011).
HELD: The judgment is affirmed substantially for the reasons expressed in the opinion of the Appellate Division. Chapter 37 is not preempted by federal law, does not violate equal protection, and does not give rise to an unconstitutional search and seizure.
1. Chapter 37 neither contravenes nor is preempted by the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act because a driver's age group constitutes neither "highly restricted personal information" within the meaning of 18 U.S.C.A. § 2725(4), nor "personal information" within the meaning of 18 U.S.C.A. § 2725(3). (pp. 2-3)
2. Chapter 37 does not violate plaintiffs' federal or state equal protection rights. Under the federal equal protection clause, Chapter 37 is rationally related to a legitimate state interest -- providing an enforcement mechanism for the State's objective of ensuring vehicular safety -- and is rationally limited to drivers who are at specific stages of GDLS. Under our Constitution, the Court applies a balancing test which considers the nature of the right affected, the extent to which the government action interferes with that right, and the public need for such interference. Chapter 37 furthers New Jersey's compelling interest in maintaining highway safety with minimal intrusion upon the drivers. The differential treatment of young out-of-state licensees, who are permitted to drive in New Jersey without displaying a decal, is justified by the fact that only New Jersey drivers may be subject to GDLS restrictions. (pp. 3-5)
3. Chapter 37 does not give rise to an unreasonable search and seizure under federal or state law. Young drivers have no reasonable expectation of privacy in their age group, which can generally be determined by their physical appearance and is routinely exposed to public view. Further, because the decal is affixed to the exterior of the car, ...