Delay in imposing driver’s license suspension as basis for nullifying suspension

Naginey v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 201 A.3d 290 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2019), allocatur granted June 11, 2021, appeal docket 51 MAP 2021.

On August 9, 2011, Aaron Naginey violated Florida’s DUI statute. On March 12, 2013, he was convicted of his Florida DUI violation. More than three years later, on April 22, 2016, Florida notified PennDOT of Naginey’s DUI conviction. On June 23, 2016, PennDOT processed Florida’s notice and on June 30, 2016, PennDOT notified Naginey that his Pennsylvania automobile operating privilege would be suspended for a period of one year as a result of his Florida DUI conviction. Naginey appealed the suspension to the Union County Court of Common Pleas.

The trial court sustained Naginey’s appeal and rescinded the one-year suspension of his operating privilege, concluding that the delay of approximately 37 months between his Florida DUI conviction and the receipt of his suspension notice from PennDOT was extraordinary, unreasonable, and prejudicial. In reaching its decision, the trial court relied on Commonwealth Court precedent in Pokoy v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 714 A.2d 1162 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1998), and Gingrich v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 134 A.3d 528 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2016). PennDOT appealed to the Commonwealth Court, arguing, inter alia, that because the delay in issuing the suspension was not attributable to PennDOT but to another entity, the one-year suspension should stand.

In Pokoy, the Commonwealth Court held that in order to challenge a license suspension based on unreasonable delay, a licensee must show that (1) there was an unreasonable delay between the date of the offense and the levying of the suspension, (2) the unreasonable delay was PennDOT’s fault, (3) the delay caused the driver to believe that operating privileges were unaffected by the offense, and (4) the driver relied on this belief to his or her detriment. The Pokoy court made clear that only a delay caused by PennDOT could invalidate a suspension. So long as PennDOT suspends privileges after receiving notice from the courts of a qualifying conviction, the suspension should stand, regardless of the length of the delay.

In Gingrich, the Commonwealth Court created an exception to the Pokoy test. The “limited extraordinary circumstances” exception provides that “where a conviction is not reported for an extraordinarily extended period of time, the licensee has a lack of further violations for a significant number of years before the report is finally sent, and is able to demonstrate prejudice, it may be appropriate for common pleas to grant relief.” Id at 534. There, the court held that the 10-year delay in the case at bar met the exception’s requirement that the delay be for “an extraordinarily extended period of time” but declined to create a bright-line rule for determining when any delay becomes extraordinary.

In Middaugh v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 196 A.3d 1073 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2017, filed October 31, 2018), the Commonwealth Court refined the Gingrich exception. The Middaugh court explained that in order to determine whether a particular delay qualifies as “extraordinary” under the Gingrich test, courts should consider (1) that the Vehicle Code requires courts of common pleas to report qualifying convictions to PennDOT within 10 days, and (2) the length of the underlying statutory suspension pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S. § 3804(e). A delay that exceeds the sum of those two lengths of time is “unreasonable” for the purposes of determining whether the Gingrich exception applies.

On January 3, 2019, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s order because it found that Naginey’s case met the GingrichMiddaugh exception to the Pokoy test for a variety of reasons, none of which are relevant to the Supreme Court’s grant of allocatur. PennDOT timely filed a petition for allowance of appeal with the Supreme Court.

Over two years later, on January 20, 2021, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed a variety of questions related to the Commonwealth Court’s Middaugh holding, including the question of whether the invalidation of a license suspension due to unreasonable delay depends on the type of Pennsylvania government entity responsible for the delay. The Court concluded that the identity of the Pennsylvania government entity responsible is “immaterial to an evaluation of whether the driver’s rights have been impacted.” Dep’t of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing v. Middaugh, 244 A.3d 426, 433 (Pa. 2021).

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in turn, considered the pending petition for allowance of appeal in Naginey and granted allocatur to consider one question:

In light of this Court’s decision in Middaugh v. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 244 A.3d 426 (Pa. 2021), should the Commonwealth Court’s decision be reversed based on the distinguishing fact that no Commonwealth entity was responsible for, or had control over, the circumstances of the delay in notification, which was due to the failure of the State of Florida to timely notify the Department of Transportation of the conviction pursuant to the Driver’s License Compact, 75 Pa.C.S. § 1581?

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker.