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August 12, 2020

Agency's decision to revoke Plaintiff's driver's license held to be an arbitrary and capricious action under the circumstances


Plaintiff's driver's license was revoked by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles [DMV] based on a 24-year-old default conviction for driving without insurance.*

Supreme Court dismissed Plaintiff's CPLR Article 78 petition to stay the enforcement of the one-year revocation of Plaintiff's license by DMV. Plaintiff appealed.

The Appellate Division indicated that its review of the matter was limited to whether DMV's determination was arbitrary and capricious, irrational, affected by an error of law or an abuse of discretion and, citing Pell v Board of Education of Union Free School District No. 1 of Scarsdale and Mamaroneck, Westchester County, 34 NY2d 222, noted that "An action may be said to be arbitrary if it lacks basis in reason and is taken without regard to the facts."

Observing that the Court of Appeals has indicated that the possession of a license to drive is a vested property right and that "A license to operate an automobile is of tremendous value to the individual and may not be taken away except by due process,"**the Appellate Division opined that "No such due process was afforded to [Plaintiff], who never received notice of the conviction and was led to believe for over 20 years that his license was in order."

According to the decision, DMV admitted it continued to renew Plaintiff's license without apprising him of any problem, most recently in 2019 when Plaintiff renewed his New York State driver's license in person at DMV office and obtained a copy of his driving record abstract which indicated that his license status was "valid." In the words of the Appellate Division, "Imposition of the required penalty 24 years after the fact, which DMV admits was attributable to a potential data-entry error,*** while continuing to renew [Plaintiff's] license without apprising him of any problem, 'is the quintessence of an arbitrary and capricious action.'"

Reversing the Supreme Court's decision, the Appellate Division granted Plaintiff's petition, annulled DMV's decision and remitted the matter to DMV "for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion."

* Vehicle and Traffic Law §318[3][a]-[b] mandates a one-year license revocation upon such conviction.

** See Matter of Wignall v Fletcher, 303 NY 435.

*** When entering Plaintiff's violations into the DMV database, a DMV employee apparently misspelled Plaintiff's surname, which DMV acknowledged was a "possible data-entry error."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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