KEVIN O. CRAFTON, Appellant, v. NEW JERSEY MOTOR VEHICLE COMMISSION, Respondent.
Kevin O. Crafton (Crafton) appeals from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission's (Commission) January 29, 2013 final determination, which suspended his driver's license for thirty days. On appeal, Crafton claims that he did not receive a hearing, and that the Commission abused its discretion when it suspended his license. After reviewing the record, the briefs, and the applicable law, we affirm.
On October 17, 2012, the Commission issued a “Scheduled Suspension Notice” advising Crafton that the Commission intended to suspend his driving privileges in New Jersey for a period of ninety days because he had accumulated “12 or more points” on his driving record.1 The notice also advised defendant that he could accept the suspension or request a hearing. If he requested a hearing, he must do so in writing and:
[the] request must specify all disputed material facts and legal issues you or your attorney intend to raise at a hearing and must present all arguments on those issues you wish the Commission to consider. If [the] request fails to set forth any disputed material facts, legal issues, or arguments of such issues, the request will be denied and the suspension will become effective on a date specified by the Commission and constitute the Commission's final decision in this matter.
In response, Crafton wrote to the Commission requesting a hearing. He did not in any manner identify any disputed material facts and legal issues that he intended to raise at the hearing. The Commission acknowledged receipt of his request. The Commission noted that if the request is granted he would be notified of a date for a hearing. If it was not, he would receive a written decision and order of suspension.
Because Crafton failed to provide the required information, the Commission did not schedule a hearing, and instead issued its “Order of Suspension” on December 28, 2012. In that order, the Commission advised Crafton why it did not schedule a hearing. Further, it advised that, based on the undisputed facts, it was suspending his license, but only for thirty days instead of the original ninety days to reflect the Commission's intention that the suspension be “rehabilitative rather than punitive in nature.” The order further indicated that the suspension would be effective January 28, 2013, and that the order “constitutes the Final Decision of the Chief Administrator of the MVC” which could be appealed within forty five days. On January 29, 2013, the Commission notified Crafton that his license was suspended and that he was required to send the Commission his license and a restoration fee of one hundred dollars.
According to the Commission's final determination, the undisputed facts relied upon in reaching its decision to suspend Crafton's license were that he was
convicted of [N.J.S.A.] 39:4–98 (Speeding) for an offense that occurred on 09/26/2012, in Somers Point City, for which [he was] assessed 2 points. As a result, [his] motor vehicle point total is now 24.
Thus, his driving privileges were being suspended for excessive motor vehicle points pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:5–30, –30.8 and N.J.A.C. 13:19–10.1.
Prior to being convicted in the Somers Point City municipal court, the Northfield municipal court had issued a bench warrant for Crafton on August 15, 2007 based on his failure to appear in response to a summons issued by that municipality. In addition, that court suspended Crafton's driving privileges. The suspension remained in effect until November 16, 2011.
On January 23, 2013, Crafton wrote to the Commission to request a stay pending his appeal of its decision. In that letter, Crafton explained why he disagreed with the Commission's final determination:
I had been in prison for the last six years and zero points came off my license because the court never cleared my suspension due to [a] warrant. This warrant was satisfied in 2006. Therefor[e] I should not be in violation of points because of a 2 point ticket.
In response to Crafton's letter, the Commission issued a stay of his suspension pending this appeal.
In his appeal, Crafton does not dispute that he was convicted of the speeding offense in Somers Point City nor does he challenge the length of his suspension. Rather, he argues that for approximately five years before receiving the subject summons, he was incarcerated in a state prison. According to Crafton, he should have received point reductions 2 each year that he was in prison to the point where Somers Point City's summons would not have triggered a suspension of his license. The reason he did not receive those annual point credits was, according to Crafton, because he had an outstanding warrant issued by another court in an unrelated matter.3
Crafton argues that because that warrant was previously executed and the matter disposed of by the municipal court, he should not have been denied the annual credits. The Commission argues in response that its actions were consistent with the law, supported by substantial evidence in the record, and that Crafton's challenge to Northfield municipal court's warrant and suspension is not a defense to the Commission's authorized actions.
Our scope of review of an agency decision is limited. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999). “[A]n appellate court ordinarily should not disturb an administrative agency's determinations or findings unless there is a clear showing that (1) the agency did not follow the law; (2) the decision was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable; or (3) the decision was not supported by substantial evidence.” In re Virtua–West Jersey Hosp., 194 N.J. 413, 422 (2008); Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210–11 (1997). We also must determine “whether in applying legislative policies to the facts, the agency clearly erred in reaching a conclusion that could not reasonably have been made on a showing of the relevant factors.” In re Hermann, 192 N.J. 19, 28 (2007) (quoting Mazza v. Bd. of Treasurers, 143 N.J. 22, 25 (1995)).
We have carefully considered Crafton's contentions under these circumstances and are satisfied that they are clearly without merit. R. 2:11–3(e)(2). First, the Commission's decision was authorized by statute, N.J.S.A. 39:5–30.8, and by regulation, N.J.A.C. 13:19–10.1 and 10.2. Second, Crafton did not establish his entitlement to a hearing because he did not comply with the requirements for notifying the Commission of any disputed facts or any legal issues he wished to raise. N.J.A.C. 13:19–1.2(d). In any event, a hearing would not have mattered because there was substantial credible evidence in the record to support the Commission's determination (Crafton's driving record 4 and the Somers Point City conviction) and that determination was neither unfair nor unreasonable.
While we recognize the burden that the loss of driving privileges imposes upon Crafton, the operation of a motor vehicle is a privilege and not a right. State v. Kabayama, 94 N.J.Super. 78, 82 (Cty.Ct.), aff'd, 98 N.J.Super. 85 (App.Div.1967), aff'd o.B., 52 N.J. 507 (1968). In addition, Crafton's persistent failure to abide by the traffic laws imposes a risk upon those who traverse our roads which must be weighted in favor of the suspension imposed.
Finally, Crafton could not raise a municipal court's alleged failure to recall a warrant and its wrongful suspension of his license as a defense to the Commission's suspension. A court's action is separate and apart from the Commission's authorized actions. Any attempt to challenge the legitimacy of the court's action must occur through the appropriate application to the court which issued the challenged order and, if not satisfied with the result, through an appeal to the Superior Court. See, State v. Ferrier, 294 N.J.Super. 198, 200 (App.Div.1996), certif. denied, 148 N.J. 461 (1997).
1. FN1. Crafton's driving record reveals that during the past sixteen years he committed numerous violations, including many for speeding alone, and that his license had been suspended six times before the subject suspension.
2. FN2. Such reductions are provided for in N.J.S.A. 39:5–30.9:Points recorded against a licensee shall be reduced at the rate of three points for each 12 consecutive months in which the licensee has not committed any violation either resulting in the assessment of points or in the suspension of driving privileges.
3. FN3. Evidently, the Northfield Municipal Court issued a warrant for his arrest in August, 2007 based on his failure to appear in that court. Crafton appears to argue that he turned himself in or was otherwise brought before the court on that warrant, and it should not have been pending while he was incarcerated so as to prevent him from receiving annual good driver point credits.
4. FN4. In evaluating the Commission's disposition, we must also consider Crafton's egregious driving record, consisting of multiple driving violations and multiple suspensions of his license.