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ACLU Settles Suit With DMV Over License Reinstatement Rule

Posted: February 09, 2012|Category: Due Process

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The RI ACLU today announced the favorable settlement of a lawsuit against the Division of Motor Vehicles, which had refused to reinstate a person’s driver’s license based on a “policy” that appeared nowhere in the agency’s rules and regulations. The lawsuit, filed in R.I. Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorneys Albin Moser and Melissa Braatz on behalf of Warwick resident Marc Lavik, had argued that the DMV’s actions violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), an important state law that requires agencies to provide advance notice and a comment period before adopting policies that affect members of the public.

State law authorizes agencies like the DMV to deny license renewals to people who owe taxes to the state. Under that law, Lavik was unable in 2005 to get his driver’s license and registration renewed. In 2010, he finally paid off all his back taxes, but instead of getting his license reinstated, he was told by the DMV that, because more than three years had elapsed, he would need to apply for a new license and retake both a written and road test. In justifying this, the DMV referred Lavik to the agency’s web site which, in a section on license reinstatement, stated that: “If your license has expired for a period of three years or more during the time of suspension, a written exam and road test is [sic] required to obtain a new license.” However, the ACLU lawsuit argued that this “policy” was never the subject of any public notice or hearing by the agency and was thus “legally invalid.”

Under a consent agreement that has been filed in R.I. Superior Court settling the case, the DMV has agreed to reinstate Lavik’s license, to rescind use of its “informal” test-retake policy, to initiate formal rule-making proceedings before re-adopting any policy on the issue, and to pay attorneys’ fees and costs.

In fact, in conformance with the consent decree, the DMV already held a public hearing earlier this week on proposed rules that essentially codify its earlier “policy.” The ACLU testified against the proposal on substantive grounds, however, noting that the tax statute under which Lavik was unable to get his license renewed requires agencies to reinstate licenses “within five (5) business days of receiving the certificate of good standing” from the taxation division. 

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “I am pleased that we were able to informally resolve this suit and get Mr. Lavik’s license reinstated. The importance of the Administrative Procedures Act cannot be underestimated. This case serves as an important reminder that people have a basic right to know the laws and regulations by which they are supposed to abide, and to have the opportunity to comment on them through a publicly transparent rule-making process.”

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