303 N.Y. 435, Wignall v. Fletcher

Citation:303 N.Y. 435
Party Name:Wignall v. Fletcher
Case Date:January 24, 1952
Court:New York Court of Appeals

Page 435

303 N.Y. 435

In the Matter of GEORGE R. WIGNALL, Respondent,


CLIFFORD J. FLETCHER, as Commissioner of Motor Vehicles of the State of New York, Appellant.

New York Court of Appeal

January 24, 1952

Argued October 10, 1951.

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Nathaniel L. Goldstein, Attorney-General (John R. Davison, Wendell P. Brown and Philip J. Fitzgerald of counsel), for appellant. The Appellate Division erred (1) in holding (a) that the statute was designed to give the holder of a license an opportunity to be heard before revocation, and (b) that petitioner was entitled to cross-examine the road-test examiner and to present evidence of his own; (2) in ordering the matter remitted to the commissioner for a further hearing, and (3) in instructing the commissioner to make findings. ( Matter of Marburg v. Cole, 286 N.Y. 202; People v. Rosenheimer, 209 N.Y. 115; Reitz v. Mealey, 314 U.S. 33; Matter of Romaner v. Williams, 270 A.D. 948, 296 N.Y. 637; Matter of Sacharoff v. Corsi, 294 N.Y. 305, 326 U.S. 744; Matter of Small v. Moss, 277 N.Y. 501; Benjamin on Administrative Adjudication in State of New York, Vol. I, pp. 351-359; Matter of Erlanger v. Regents of Univ. of State of N.Y. , 256 A.D. 444, 281 N.Y. 627; Matter of Rosenberg v. Board of Estimate, 257 A.D. 839, 281 N.Y. 835; Matter of Larkin Co. v. Schwab, 242 N.Y. 330; People ex rel. Schau v. McWilliams, 185 N.Y. 92; Matter of Strauss v. Hannig, 256 A.D. 662, 281 N.Y. 612; Foley v. Equitable Life Assur. Soc., 290 N.Y. 424.)

Johnson S. Albright for respondent. I. A driver's license should not be taken away except by due process. ( New York Water Service Corp. v. Water Power & Control Comm., 283 N.Y. 23; Matter of New York Tit. & Mtge. Co., 277 N.Y. 66; Matter of Friedel v. Board of Regents, 296 N.Y. 347.) II. Licenseholder should be confronted with and have right to cross-examine the witness against him, and present his own evidence if any. ( Matter of Yates v. Mulrooney, 245 A.D. 146; Matter of Greenebaum v. Bingham, 201 N.Y. 343; Matter of Brenner v. Bruckman, 253 A.D. 607, 278 N.Y. 503;

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Matter of Kafka v. Fletcher, 272 A.D. 364.)III. Definite findings should have been made after the hearing. ( Matter of Elite Dairy Products v. Ten Eyck, 271 N.Y. 488; Matter of New York Water Service Corp. v. Water Power & Control Comm., 283 N.Y. 23; Matter of Guernsey Breeders Co-op. v. Noyes, 284 N.Y. 197; Matter of Dusinberre v. Noyes, 284 N.Y. 304; Matter of Collins v. Behan, 285 N.Y. 187; Matter of Scudder v. O'Connell, 272 A.D. 251.)


Petitioner is a farmer. Except for the first two months of his life, he has lived in the towns of Marion and Walworth in western New York for eighty years. He alleges that he has driven an automobile since 1910 and has always been licensed to drive, has always carried liability insurance, and never had an accident until 1948, when a young boy ran into the road and into the rear end of petitioner's car. He felt the jar, immediately stopped, and thereafter reported the accident to a deputy sheriff. The boy's injuries were not serious. There is not a scintilla of evidence in the record showing any negligence on petitioner's part.

On May 17, 1949, appellant Commissioner of Motor Vehicles ordered petitioner to appear for a hearing at Lyons, New York. The notice stated that such hearing would be held 'Pursuant to Section 71 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law * * * to investigate accident on 10/10/48 at Monroe Co. and to determine whether or not your license * * * should be suspended or revoked.' The notice contained the following note: 'The principal purpose of this hearing is to determine if your physical condition is such that you may safely operate a motor vehicle on the highways.'

It appears that the hearing was scheduled under paragraph (b) of subdivision 3 of section 71 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, dealing with permissive suspensions and revocations 'because of some physical * * * disability of the holder'. That subdivision also provides: 'Where revocation or suspension is permissive, the holder shall have an opportunity to be heard', and in subdivision 6 it is provided: 'Revocation or suspension hereunder shall be deemed an administrative act reviewable by the supreme court as such.' Provision is also made for notice of hearing and compulsory attendance of witnesses.

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The hearing was held on June 2, 1949, and the original report contained the following: 'Remarks: This man is eighty-two years of age but seems to be in good condition despite his advanced years. However, I feel that it is best for him to take a road test.' After the word 'Decision' there was typewritten: 'Make arrangements for road test. If he passes case can be closed, otherwise license revoked.' A road test was given, not at Lyons, the place of hearing, but in the city of Rochester in the vicinity of the 'Four Corners'. The petitioner failed the test, not because of 'Physical Defects', 'Accident', or any 'Serious Violation', but because of 'W T L' (wrong traffic lane), apparently while making a left turn, denominated as 'Dangerous...

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