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Gunther v. New York State Dep't of Motor Vehicles

August 8, 2008

JOSEPH LUKE GUNTHER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES, ET AL; NANCY NAPLES, KAREN T. GHARHARTT, IDA L. TRASCHEN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

In this pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff claims his Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when New York State Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") required him to pay an assessment of $525 pursuant to section 503(4) of New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law. The defendants move (Dkt. No. 11) for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Plaintiff moves (Dkt. No. 14) for summary judgment. Defendants cross move (Dkt. No. 18) for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants defendants' Rule 12(c) motion in part and denies it in part, denies plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, and grants defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing the remaining claims.

BACKGROUND

On October 14, 2005, plaintiff was convicted of speeding by the Town of Scriba Justice Court. New York State regulations provide that any traffic violation "involving speeding more than 20 but not more than 30 miles per hour over the speed limit" "shall be assigned a point value of six points." 15 NYCRR 131.3(b)(3). On October 3, 2006, plaintiff was convicted of failing to stop at a stop sign by the Village of Booneville Justice Court on October 3, 2006. New York State regulations provide that any traffic violation involving disobeying a stop sign "shall be assigned a point value of three points." 15 NYCRR 131.3(b)(6)(iii). Thus, within less than a year, plaintiff accumulated nine points.

Section 503(4)(a) of New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law provides: "Any person who accumulates six or more points on his or her driving record for acts committed within an eighteen month period shall become liable to the [DMV] for payment of a driver responsibility assessment[.]" Because plaintiff accumulated nine points in less than eighteen months, DMV issued a driver responsibility assessment ("assessment") against him in the amount of $525. See N.Y. Veh. & Traffic L., §503(4)(b). The notification of the assessment, dated November 16, 2006, advised plaintiff his driver's license would be suspended if he failed to pay the full assessment of $525 or the minimum annual payment of $175 by December 16, 2006.

On November 29, 2006, plaintiff wrote to Nancy Naples, then DMV Commissioner, asserting that the assessment was incorrect, that he had no points on his license, and that the nine points were "completely fabricated." By letter dated December 4, 2006, defendant Karen T. Gharhartt, as Supervising Driver Improvement Examiner in DMV's Driver Improvement Bureau, responded to plaintiff's letter. Gharhartt's letter stated that plaintiff's letter to Commissioner Naples had been referred to her for reply*fn1 ; indicated that the assessment was correct; explained the applicable law; and advised plaintiff that he had the option of contacting the town and village courts regarding the possibility of reopening the convictions.

On December 12, 2006, plaintiff responded to Gharhartt's letter. He claimed DMV had denied him due process and subjected him to double jeopardy, and stated he intended to file a federal lawsuit. Defendant Ida L. Traschen, as DMV's Supervising Attorney, responded by letter dated December 27, 2006, stating that "the sum and substance of Ms. Gharhartt's letter of December 4, 2006 is correct" and notifying plaintiff that DMV would "continue to collect the Assessment."

By Suspension Order dated December 31, 2006, DMV notified plaintiff that his driver's license "is suspended indefinitely effective 01/30/2007" due to his failure to pay the assessment, and that payment of the assessment would "avoid or clear" the suspension. Plaintiff avers he had already mailed the $175 minimum annual payment to DMV on December 13, 2006. In support of this assertion, plaintiff refers to a photocopy of the stub of a money order; however, the date and amount of the money order are illegible. In any event, at some point, DMV received plaintiff's payment and issued a Notice of Restoration, effective January 19, 2007, stating that the suspension of plaintiff's license, effective January 30, 2007, had been rescinded. The reason given was: "Payment of Driver Responsibility Assessment received." Thus, the suspension of plaintiff's license was rescinded before it went into effect. Defendants attach an abstract of plaintiff's driving record, printed April 17, 2008, demonstrating that neither the assessment nor the suspension appear on plaintiff's driving record.

Plaintiff's complaint sets forth three causes of action. First, he claims DMV infringed his Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy by fining him after he had already paid the town and village court fines. Second, he claims he was denied due process when DMV "automatically convert[ed]" the town and village convictions to a New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law violation. And third, he claims DMV violated his Eighth Amendment rights by imposing an excessive fine. He requests compensatory and punitive damages from DMV. He also asks the Court to "inform" defendants that DMV does not have authority to overrule decisions of town or village justices.

DISCUSSION

The Motions

The defendants move (Dkt. No. 11) for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Plaintiff moves (Dkt. No. 14) for summary judgment. Defendants ...


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