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ACLU Sues DMV Over License Reinstatement Rule; Challenges Agency “Making Rules Up As They Go Along”

Posted: October 17, 2011|Category: Due Process

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The RI ACLU has today filed a lawsuit challenging the Division of Motor Vehicle’s actions in refusing to reinstate a person’s driver’s license based on a “policy” that appears 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, argues that the DMV’s actions are in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), an important state law that requires agencies to provide advance notice and a public comment period before adopting policies that affect members of the public.

State law authorizes agencies like the DMV to deny the renewal of licenses 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 because he owed back taxes to the Division of Taxation.  Last year, he finally paid off all his 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, states 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 lawsuit argues that this “policy” has never been the subject of any public notice or hearing by the agency. To the contrary, the suit notes 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.

Noting that the DMV “did not comply with the rulemaking procedures required by [the APA] when it adopted this rule [and] … provided no advance notice and conducted no hearing on the rule prior to adopting it,” the lawsuit calls the alleged policy “legally invalid.” The suit seeks a court order declaring the policy null and void and ordering reinstatement of Lavik’s license.

ACLU attorney Moser said today: “The DMV should have given the public an opportunity to participate in the making of this rule.  For lack of a democratic process, the rule has not been validly adopted.”  RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown added: “DMV officials simply cannot and should not be making rules up as they go along.  If the agency had sought to adopt this policy through a public process, as they are supposed to, they might have learned that it appears to run directly contrary to the taxation law, and also received comments about the unnecessary burden it imposes.”

Marc Lavik said: “I’m very frustrated with this situation, as I was told in 2005 that my license would be put ‘on hold’ till the full payment was made on the back state taxes I owed.  I only became aware of the DMV policy in 2010, after I paid in full all the taxes I owed.  The state of RI has since penalized me for doing the right thing of paying off my debt, and then not reinstating my license under a policy that I or the public was never aware of and that is contrary to a state law that the DMV should follow.”

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