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Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles v. Douglass

Court of Appeals of Indiana

October 23, 2019

Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Appellant-Respondent,
Thomas Douglass, Appellee-Petitioner.

          Appeal from the Marion Circuit Court The Honorable Sheryl Lynch, Judge The Honorable Mark Jones, Commissioner Trial Court Cause No. 49C01-1802-MI-6459

          Attorneys for Appellant Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Frances Barrow Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorney for Appellee Brian J. Johnson Danville, Indiana

          RILEY, JUDGE.


         [¶1] Appellant-Respondent, Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), appeals the trial court's Order granting the Appellee-Petitioner, Thomas Douglass' (Douglass), petition for judicial review, in which he seeks to set aside his ten-year suspension of his driving privileges in Indiana and his habitual traffic violator (HTV) determination.

         [¶2] We reverse.


         [¶3] BMV presents three issues on appeal, which we consolidate and restate as the following single issue: Whether the trial court erred by granting Douglass' petition for judicial review.


         [¶4] In 2014, Douglass was a resident of Marion County, Indianapolis, Indiana. At the time, Douglass had a valid driver's license. In May 2014, BMV initially issued Douglass a duplicate license and a permanent driver's license with an expiration date of March 1, 2018, which was mailed to his home on May 29, 2014. In June 2014, Douglass moved to California. After surrendering his Indiana driver's license on June 9, 2014, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (CA DMV) issued Douglass a California driver's license.

         [¶5] On August 20, 2014, BMV sent Douglass a letter to his last known address in Indianapolis. The letter was titled "Habitual Traffic Violator Notice of Suspension" (Notice). The Notice informed Douglass that he had accumulated three qualifying driving-related convictions within a ten-year period and, as a result, he was deemed an HTV. Due to his HTV status, BMV informed Douglass that it was suspending his driving privileges for ten years beginning September 19, 2014. The Notice also informed Douglass that he could request an administrative review within eighteen days.

         [¶6] Approximately three and one-half years later, on January 5, 2018, CA DMV sent a letter to Douglass' home in California stating, "[w]e regret to inform you that . . . [Indiana has] reported that your driving privilege is suspended or revoked." (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 9). CA BMV notified Douglass that unless it received a clearance from BMV, it would "cancel" his California driver's license within thirty days. (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 19).

         [¶7] Although untimely, on January 23, 2018, through his attorney, Douglass wrote a letter to BMV requesting an administrative review of the HTV determination and the suspension of his driving privileges. In part, Douglass averred,

Normal practice is for a person's new home state's drivers licensing authority to inform a person's prior home state that the person moved, in this case California should have notified Indiana in 2014 that effective June 9, 2014, [] Douglass was licensed in California. However, the remarks section of [] Douglass' driving record does not contain a notation that he moved to California and was licensed there.
* * * *
An error occurred because Indiana imposed a suspension for [] Douglass when he was no longer an Indiana resident on September 19, 2014. This error could have been avoided if California had notified Indiana in June 2014 that [] Douglass had moved to California. Nevertheless, the "home state" of California is supposed to impose suspensions on its residents based on their driving record. For example, I have had numerous clients who moved to Illinois or Michigan, and those states imposed [sic] suspensions for new residents based on the new residents' driving violations that occurred out of state and prior to moving to Illinois and Michigan. The same scenario should have occurred here; meaning California instead of Indiana had the authority to impose suspension or revocations for [] Douglass starting June 9, 2014.

(Appellant's App. Vol. II, pp. 24-25).

         [¶8] After conducting an administrative review, on January 30, 2018, BMV sent its response to Douglass and his attorney, reiterating that Douglass had been convicted of at least three prior driving-related offenses within the last ten years and that qualified him as an HTV. BMV also determined, in part, that

At the time the suspension was imposed, the BMV had not received notice that you moved out of state. However, because you held an Indiana driver's license at the time of the qualifying offenses, your driving privileges would still be suspended for HTV even if the BMV did have notice. The BMV did not suspend one specific credential, but rather your driving privileges as required by law.
Your record has now been updated to reflect your move to California based on the California driver's license that your attorney provided.

(Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 34). (italics in original). Concluding no "material error" existed in its Notice, BMV upheld the suspension of Douglass' driving privileges and the HTV determination. (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 34).

         [¶9] On February 20, 2018, Douglass filed a verified petition for judicial review and motion for a preliminary injunction. A hearing on Douglass' motion for a preliminary injunction was conducted on March 5, 2018. On March 9, 2018, the trial court issued an order granting Douglass' preliminary injunction whereby it ordered BMV to "lift/stay the suspension noted in [Douglass'] driving record" until the resolution of the underlying cause. (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 45). A hearing on Douglass' verified petition for judicial review was held on August 22, 2018. On December 26, 2018, the trial court entered its findings of facts and conclusions thereon stating, in part, that:

4. Indiana is a member of the [I]nterstate [D]river's [L]icense [C]ompact. [Indiana Code section] 9-28-1-3 provides, in pertinent part:
The driver's license compact is hereby enacted into law and entered into with all other jurisdictions joining therein in ...

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