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Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles v. Watson

Court of Appeals of Indiana

January 23, 2017

Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and Kent Abernathy, Commissioner of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Appellants-Respondents,
v.
Craig Watson, Appellee-Petitioner.

         Appeal from the Lake Circuit Court The Honorable George Paras, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 45C01-1512-MI-325

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Andrea E. Rahman Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE J. Michael Woods Stracci Criminal Defense Merrillville, Indiana

          Robb, Judge.

         Case Summary and Issue

         [¶1] In 2015, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles ("BMV") denied the renewal of Craig Watson's chauffeur's license. Following an unsuccessful administrative appeal, Watson petitioned for and the trial court granted him special driving privileges. BMV refused to issue Watson's special driving privileges, and Watson subsequently filed a motion to compel the issuance of a valid chauffeur's license, which the trial court granted. The Attorney General of Indiana then intervened on behalf of BMV and filed a motion to correct error alleging the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction to consider Watson's motion to compel. The trial court denied BMV's motion to correct error. BMV now appeals, raising one issue for our review, whether the trial court erred in denying its motion to correct error. Because Watson effectively petitioned the trial court for judicial review of an agency action without having served the Attorney General of Indiana, as required by the Indiana Administrative Orders and Procedures Act ("AOPA"), we conclude the trial court did not have personal jurisdiction and therefore could not enter an order directing BMV to issue Watson a chauffeur's license. We therefore reverse the trial court's denial of BMV's motion to correct error and vacate its order directing BMV to issue Watson a chauffeur's license.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] Watson has worked in the construction industry for almost twenty-five years and his employment requires him to operate certain types of trucks that require a chauffeur's license.

         In 2000, the State of Illinois suspended Watson's driver's license for failure to make required payments towards fines and costs. Although Watson stated he received notice from the Illinois Secretary of State that he was eligible for reinstatement, he elected to move to Indiana without fully resolving the issue with Illinois.

         [¶3] In 2001, BMV issued Watson a driver's license. In 2005, BMV renewed Watson's license which had been amended to a chauffeur's license. Watson renewed his chauffeur's license in 2009. In July of 2015, Watson again attempted to renew his chauffeur's license; however, this time BMV refused to renew his license. BMV relied upon the Driver License Compact Act, to which the Indiana and Illinois are signatories, and informed Watson he must resolve his license suspension with Illinois before it would be able to renew his license. Watson administratively appealed the denial of his license renewal and, on December 21, 2015, BMV issued a final order finding Watson's license renewal was "properly denied . . . due to the Illinois suspension." Appellant's Appendix at 66.

         [¶4] On December 28, 2015, Watson filed a Verified Petition for Special Driving Privileges. Following a hearing at which a Lake County deputy prosecutor appeared on behalf of BMV, the trial court granted Watson's request for special driving privileges. However, on January 25, 2016, BMV sent a letter to the trial court stating it could not issue Watson special driving privileges because he still possessed a valid Indiana license and they could not issue specialized driving privileges on a suspended Illinois license. One month later, Watson responded by filing a Motion to Compel Issuance of Specialized Driving Privileges or to Issue a Valid Driver's License Credential. Watson's motion, in addition to requesting the trial court to compel BMV to issue special driving privileges, contested BMV's interpretation of the Driver License Compact Act and requested the trial court order BMV to issue him a valid chauffeur's license. The certificate of service indicates Watson served the motion on the Commissioner of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Lake County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

         [¶5] Following a hearing on March 8, 2016, [1] the trial court granted Watson's Motion to Issue a Valid Driver's License Credential and ordered BMV to issue Watson a valid chauffeur's license. The trial court's order states, "[Indiana Code section 9-28-1-3, Article 5, Section 2] applies to the issuance of a new driver's license, not the renewal of an existing license . . . . [Watson's] suspension in Illinois does not serve as a bar to issuance of a renewal credential[.]" Appellant's App. at 13. The trial court also found BMV was equitably estopped from refusing to issue a renewal of his chauffeur's license.

         [¶6] On April 7, 2016, the Attorney General of Indiana filed a motion to intervene on behalf of BMV and a motion to correct error alleging the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction to order BMV to issue a chauffeur's license. The motion to correct error contended Watson's Motion to Issue a Valid Driver's License Credential was, in effect, a petition for judicial review requiring service upon the Attorney General of Indiana. The trial court denied BMV's motion to correct error. BMV now appeals.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶7] BMV argues the trial court impermissibly engaged in judicial review of an agency decision. Specifically, it alleges "Watson's motion to compel the issuance of a chauffeur's license, and the trial court's subsequent order, essentially converted Watson's original action into a petition for judicial review [of an agency action]." Appellant's Brief at 11 (internal citations omitted). BMV further argues because the trial court reviewed, at Watson's request, an administrative action of a state agency, Watson was required to follow statutory procedures outlined in AOPA, including serving the Attorney General, which he failed ...


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