November 15, 2013
PATRICK O'KEEFE, Appellant,
NEW JERSEY MOTOR VEHICLE COMMISSION, Respondent.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued November 4, 2013
On appeal from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.
Randolph H. Wolf argued the cause for appellant (Randolph H. Wolf, attorneys; Mr. Wolf and Katherine A. North, on the brief).
Sharon Price-Cates, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent (John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney; Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Ms. Price-Cates, on the brief).
Before Judges Parrillo and Harris.
Plaintiff Patrick O'Keefe appeals from a November 1, 2012 final decision of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (the MVC) that denied O'Keefe's request for a hearing regarding two proposed 180-day suspensions of his driving privilege in New Jersey and imposed a single ninety-day driving privilege suspension effective on November 27, 2012. We affirm.
Because there was no formal hearing in this matter, the record on appeal is quite limited. We glean the facts from what the parties have provided, which mostly consists of undisputed evidence.
On three separate dates in September 2011, O'Keefe's New Jersey driving privilege was suspended by the Hoboken municipal court pursuant to the Parking Offenses Adjudication Act (POAA), N.J.S.A. 39:4-139.2 to -139.14. Separately, on September 23, 2011, the MVC suspended O'Keefe's driving privilege because of his failure to answer a traffic summons in the Secaucus municipal court. Additionally, once in October 2011, three times in March 2012, and once on April 11, 2012, O'Keefe's driving privilege was suspended by the Hoboken municipal court under the POAA.
In February 2012, O'Keefe was cited with a driving infraction in New York for failing to observe a traffic control device. He pled guilty to the offense and paid a fine.
On March 30, 2012, O'Keefe received a driving ticket in Union City for operating a motor vehicle while his license was suspended. The record is unclear with respect to the ultimate disposition of that offense, but the MVC asserts that notwithstanding O'Keefe's protestations to the contrary, the issuance of the ticket demonstrates his knowledge of the suspension of his New Jersey driving privilege.
In April 2012, O'Keefe was involved in a motor vehicle accident in New York. He was again informed at that time that his driving privilege was suspended, and charged with being an unlicensed driver. O'Keefe claims that this was the first time he was made aware that his driving privilege was suspended due to unpaid parking tickets. After satisfying all outstanding obligations, O'Keefe's driving privilege was restored on May 1, 2012.
On July 18, 2012, the MVC mailed O'Keefe a notice that it planned to suspend his New Jersey driving privilege for 180 days because at the time of the first New York offense, O'Keefe's driving privilege was suspended. See N.J.S.A. 39:3-40; N.J.S.A. 39:5-30; N.J.A.C. 13:19-10.8. On September 4, 2012, the MVC mailed O'Keefe a notice that it planned to suspend his New Jersey driving privilege for another 180 days because at the time of the second New York offense, O'Keefe's driving privilege was suspended.
In response to the first MVC notice O'Keefe wrote back the following:
I . . . would like to request a hearing to avoid a suspension for driving without a license. During the time of the ticket, I was not aware of the suspension to my license, which was caused by unpaid parking tickets. All of these tickets have been paid and my license is in good standing.
In response to the second MVC notice, O'Keefe wrote:
I was having issues w[ith] mail service and was not aware that my license had been suspended. I was ticket[ed] for th[e] [April 2012] offense and paid the resulting fine. Proof of the violation and subsequent payment is included in my letter. I would like to request a hearing or cancellation of the pending suspension. My ability to drive is required for me to keep my job.
The MVC determined that a hearing was unwarranted because the only basis O'Keefe presented to contest the proposed suspensions was that he was "no[t] aware of suspension and trouble receiving mail." The MVC concluded that "[b]ecause [O'Keefe] . . . failed to identify any disputed material fact(s) and/or legal issue(s) to be resolved at a hearing, [his] request for a hearing is hereby denied pursuant to N.J.A.C. 13:19-1.2(d)." After concluding that O'Keefe's driving privilege was suspended from September 2, 2011 until May 1, 2012, and that O'Keefe operated a motor vehicle in New York at least twice between those dates, the MVC determined that the two 180-day proposed terms of suspension be reduced to ninety days. This appeal followed.
On appeal, O'Keefe cabins his argument to one point, asserting that his timely request for hearings required the MVC to conduct such proceedings, and its failure to do so violated due process. We cannot agree.
Because the issues raised by O'Keefe involve only a question of law, we review the MVC's decision under a de novo standard. Russo v. Bd. of Trs., Police & Firemen's Ret. Sys., 206 N.J. 14, 27 (2011) (citing Toll Bros., Inc. v. Twp. of W. Windsor, 173 N.J. 502, 549 (2002)). "[A]n appellate court ordinarily should not disturb an administrative agency's determinations or findings unless there is a clear showing that (1) the agency did not follow the law; (2) the decision was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable; or (3) the decision was not supported by substantial evidence." In re Virtua-West Jersey Hosp. Voorhees for a Certificate of Need, 194 N.J. 413, 422 (2008) (citation omitted).
The Administrative Procedure Act (APA), N.J.S.A. 52:14B-1 to -15, provides licensees with an administrative hearing if there are disputed material facts. N.J.S.A. 52:14B-11. See Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535, 539, 91 S.Ct. 1586, 1589, 29 L.Ed.2d 90, 94 (1971). A hearing is not required where the material facts are not in dispute. State, Div. of Motor Vehicles v. Pepe, 379 N.J.Super. 411, 419 (App. Div. 2005) (no disputed facts or law, therefore, no hearing necessary). Neither is a hearing indicated where the state agency is "required by any law to . . . suspend . . . a license . . . without exercising any discretion in the matter, " either on the basis of a court's judgment in the matter or by law. N.J.S.A. 52:14B-11; N.J.A.C. 13:19-1.13. See also Pepe, supra, 379 N.J.Super. at 419.
N.J.A.C. 13:19-1.2 sets forth the requirements pertaining to administrative hearing requests. A hearing request must "specify all disputed material facts which the licensee or his or her attorney intends to raise at such hearing." N.J.A.C. 13:19-1.2(d). It must also "set forth all legal issues" intended to be raised, as well as "all arguments on those issues which the licensee wishes the [MVC] to consider." Ibid. Hearing requests are denied for failure to comply with these requirements. N.J.A.C. 13:19-1.2(e).
Here, O'Keefe failed to identify any disputed material facts. He did not contest any of the underlying infractions in Secaucus, Hoboken, or Union City, nor did he raise any legal issues to be addressed by the MVC. Rather, O'Keefe baldly asserted that the several municipal courts did not provide him with notice of all eight of his pre-February 2012 court-ordered suspensions. This collateral attack upon the POAA procedures of the municipal courts did not require an MVC inquiry.
Since no disputed issues of material fact existed, and no legal issues were raised in O'Keefe's two MVC hearing requests, no evidentiary proceeding was required before the ninety-day suspension was imposed.