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Clark v. New Jersey Div. of Motor Vehicles

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division
Jul 16, 1986
211 N.J. Super. 708 (App. Div. 1986)

Summary

holding that assessment of surcharges based on offenses committed prior to statute's enactment did not violate ex post facto prohibition

Summary of this case from Gordon v. Registry of Motor Vehicles

Opinion

Submitted June 3, 1986 —

Decided July 16, 1986.

Before Judges DREIER and GRUCCIO.

James H. Clark, appellant, filed a brief pro se. W. Cary Edwards, Attorney General of New Jersey, attorney for respondent ( James J. Ciancia, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel, John P. Bender, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).


Petitioner James H. Clark appeals from a determination of the Acting Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles assessing insurance surcharge penalties based upon petitioner's two speeding convictions, N.J.S.A. 39:4-98; driving while intoxicated conviction, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50; and a conviction for failing to take a breathalyzer test, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.2. Petitioner contends that the imposition of the automobile surcharge pursuant to N.J.S.A. 17:29A-33, et seq. has been unconstitutionally applied to him on an ex post facto basis and that the surcharges are penal in nature.

An administrative law judge determined that Clark was subject to the Merit Rating Plan surcharge as billed by the Division of Motor Vehicles. The administrative law judge did not decide the constitutional challenge, noting that although administrative agencies have the power to pass upon constitutional questions, they do so only where their determination is relevant and necessary to the resolution of the question within the agency's jurisdiction. See, e.g. Christian Bros. Inst. v. No. N.J. Inter-schol. League, 86 N.J. 409 , 416 (1981). The Acting Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles affirmed this decision, and it is from this final decision that petitioner appeals.

Having carefully reviewed the record and the arguments of counsel, we affirm the memorandum decision of the Acting Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles substantially for the reasons set forth in his opinion of July 22, 1985. We also determine to be without merit petitioner's claim that N.J.S.A. 17:29A-33, et seq. as applied to him violates the constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws. This prohibition applies only when the legislation is retrospective in operation. Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 29, 101 S.Ct. 960, 964, 67 L.Ed.2d 17, 23 (1981). The Merit Rating Plan surcharge was approved prior to petitioner's arrest for violating N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. While calculation of penalties under the Plan applies to offenses based upon consideration of a licensee's driving history, the Plan only relates to the future operation of a motor vehicle. The Merit Rating Plan merely gives the Division of Motor Vehicles the responsibility of assessing surcharges for high risk drivers in a uniform manner, as opposed to the area-based industry surcharge previously in existence. The law establishes an industry surcharge system based upon an individual's driving history and sets qualifications for the offender's continued driving on the highway.

Petitioner's claim that the statute is punitive in nature also must fail. The prohibition against ex post facto law only applies to punitive legislation. Galvan v. Press, 347 U.S. 522, 531, 74 S.Ct. 737, 742-743, 98 L.Ed. 911, 922 (1954). It does not apply to retrospective legislation involving a statutory system of civil penalties. Harisiades v. Shaughnessy, 342 U.S. 580, 594-595, 72 S.Ct. 512, 521, 96 L.Ed. 586, 601 (1952).

The label on a law does not make it civil or non-punitive. The ex post facto prohibition cannot be avoided by merely calling a statute civil when in effect it is criminal. Burgess v. Salmon, 97 U.S. (7 Otto) 381, 403, 24 L.Ed. 1104, 1106 (1878). Here the purpose and effect of the Merit Rating Plan surcharges are clearly remedial and civil. Historically, motor vehicle violations, including N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 and N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4a, have not been considered crimes but traffic offenses. See State v. Cusik, 110 N.J. Super. 149 , 151 (App.Div. 1970); State v. McCarthy, 30 N.J. Super. 6 , 8 (App.Div. 1954). The statute does not deprive a person of any status, opportunity or privilege. Instead, the person must pay a monetary assessment in accordance with a uniform schedule for the privilege of driving on the highways. All persons in the class pay in accordance with the fixed charges for violations they have accumulated. The plan is no more or less "punitive" in nature than the State requirements of compulsory insurance. In view of the carnage caused by persons driving while intoxicated, the surcharges can hardly be said to be excessive. We conclude N.J.S.A. 17:29A-35(b) is not punitive in nature and not proscribed under the ex post facto provision of the State or federal constitutions.

Affirmed.


Summaries of

Clark v. New Jersey Div. of Motor Vehicles

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division
Jul 16, 1986
211 N.J. Super. 708 (App. Div. 1986)

holding that assessment of surcharges based on offenses committed prior to statute's enactment did not violate ex post facto prohibition

Summary of this case from Gordon v. Registry of Motor Vehicles

holding that the retrospective assessment of surcharges to DUI offenders did not violate the ex post facto prohibition

Summary of this case from Frederick v. Com

ruling that Division of Motor Vehicles properly did not decide whether automobile insurers surcharge constituted ex postfacto laws because issue not within agency's expertise

Summary of this case from Desilets v. Clearview Regional Bd. of Educ

In Clark v. New Jersey Div. Of Motor Vehicles, 211 N.J. Super. 708, 711 (App. Div. 198 6), in the context of determining that the statute assessing insurance surcharges did not violate federal or state constitutional prohibitions against ex post facto laws, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division labeled surcharges as a "statutory system of civil penalties," noting that "the purpose and effect of the Merit Rating Plan surcharges are clearly remedial and civil."

Summary of this case from In re DeJesus

In Clark v. New Jersey Div. Of Motor Vehicles, 211 N.J. Super. 708, 711 (App.Div. 1986), in the context of determining that the statute assessing insurance surcharges did not violate federal or state constitutional prohibitions against ex post facto laws, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division labeled surcharges as a "statutory system of civil penalties," noting that "the purpose and effect of the Merit Rating Plan surcharges are clearly remedial and civil."

Summary of this case from In re DeJesus

In Clark v. New Jersey Div. of Motor Vehicles, 211 N.J. Super. 708, 711, 512 A.2d 588 (App.Div. 1986), in the context of determining that the statute assessing insurance surcharges did not violate federal or state constitutional prohibitions against ex post facto laws, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division labeled surcharges as a "statutory system of civil penalties," noting that "the purpose and effect of the Merit Rating Plan surcharges are clearly remedial and civil."

Summary of this case from In re Dejesus

In Clark, the court juxtaposed civil penalties with criminal penalties, concluding that the motor vehicle surcharge is "not punitive in nature and not proscribed under the ex post facto provision of the state and federal constitutions," 211 N.J.Super. at 711, 512 A.2d 588, but is a civil penalty, in that a violator "must pay a monetary assessment in accordance with a uniform schedule for the privilege of driving on the highways."

Summary of this case from In re Dejesus

labeling surcharges "civil penalties" reasoning that imposition of motor vehicle surcharges had remedial and civil purpose and effect

Summary of this case from In re Kish

In Clark v. New Jersey Div. Of Motor Vehicles, 211 N.J. Super. 708, 711 (App.Div. 1986), in the context of determining that the statute assessing insurance surcharges did not violate the constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division labeled surcharges as a "statutory system of civil penalties," noting that "the purpose and effect of the Merit Rating Plan surcharges are clearly remedial and civil."

Summary of this case from Matter of Kent

In Clark v. New Jersey Div. of Motor Vehicles, 211 N.J. Super. 708 (App.Div. 1986) Judge Gruccio affirmed an administrative law judge's determination applying the surcharge.

Summary of this case from In re Graham

In Clark v. New Jersey Div. of Motor Vehicles, 211 N.J. Super. 708, 512 A.2d 588 (App.Div. 1986) Judge Gruccio affirmed an administrative law judge's determination applying the surcharge.

Summary of this case from In re Graham
Case details for

Clark v. New Jersey Div. of Motor Vehicles

Case Details

Full title:JAMES H. CLARK, APPELLANT, v. NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF MOTOR VEHICLES…

Court:Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

Date published: Jul 16, 1986

Citations

211 N.J. Super. 708 (App. Div. 1986)
512 A.2d 588

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