770 F.2d 1228 (4th Cir. 1985), 84-1582, Tomai-Minogue v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.

Docket Nº:84-1582.
Citation:770 F.2d 1228
Case Date:August 19, 1985
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Page 1228

770 F.2d 1228 (4th Cir. 1985)

Susan TOMAI-MINOGUE, Appellant,



No. 84-1582.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

August 19, 1985

Page 1229

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Argued Jan. 11, 1985.

Page 1230

Kenneth Warren Smith, Fairfax, Va. (Smith & Gold on brief), for appellant.

Darryl L. Wyland, Washington, D.C. (Anderson, Quinn, Wyland, Yost & Scanlin, Washington, D.C., on brief), for appellee.

Before SPROUSE, WILKINSON and SNEEDEN, Circuit Judges.

WILKINSON, Circuit Judge:

This is the latest variation on a much-litigated theme: due process and the driver's license. A modern property interest, unknown to the horsedrawn and steam powered societies that debated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, a driver's license may not, once granted, be taken by the state without due process of law. The question is how much process is due. Here we conclude that the Virginia statute requiring suspension of licenses where motorists have failed to satisfy accident judgments affords sufficient procedural protection.

The Virginia Commissioner of Motor Vehicles suspended plaintiff Susan Tomai-Minogue's driver's license in 1983, at the request of defendant State Farm Mutual Insurance Co., for failure to satisfy a $230.90 automobile accident judgment entered in Maryland in favor of State Farm. Plaintiff sued State Farm for deprivation of due process under color of state law, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 (1982), with additional state law claims of malicious prosecution and abuse of process. 1 The case was tried before a jury. At the conclusion of plaintiff's evidence, the district court granted defendant's motion for a directed verdict. Plaintiff appeals.

We affirm. To do otherwise would draw federal courts further into the administration of state motor vehicle laws in violation of controlling Supreme Court precedent. Plaintiff was not deprived of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, as she had, but did not exercise, the right to a post-deprivation hearing in the Virginia courts on the inadequacy of personal jurisdiction to support the Maryland judgment. She had no constitutional right to a pre-deprivation hearing on that issue. Finally, the evidence presented was insufficient to create a jury question on the state law claims.


A. We begin with a brief review of the Virginia Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act. Va.Code Sec. 46.1-442(a) (1980) requires the Commissioner of the Division of Motor Vehicles to suspend the driver's license

Page 1231

of any person who fails to satisfy any judgment against him within thirty days. 2 "Judgment" is defined to include, under Va.Code Sec. 46.1-389(c) (1980), any judgment for $50.00 or more arising out of a motor vehicle accident because of injury to or destruction of property. Most important to this case, Va.Code Sec. 46.1-443 (1980) requires that the judgment must be one "rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction of this State, any other state of the United States, the Dominion of Canada or its provinces."

The Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act provides for no prior hearing by the Division of Motor Vehicles in the case of suspension for failure to satisfy a judgment. Va.Code Sec. 46.1-437(a) (1980) authorizes an appeal within thirty days by any person aggrieved by an order of the Commissioner requiring suspension or revocation of a license to the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond or any court of record having jurisdiction where the person resides. This section further provides, however, that "[n]o appeal shall lie in any case in which the revocation of the license or registration was mandatory except to determine the identity of the person concerned when the question of identity is in dispute." 3 We assume, for purposes of this appeal, that the statutory language could reasonably have been construed to encompass suspensions as well as revocations.

B. The facts of this case are straightforward. On October 27, 1981, in Washington, D.C., plaintiff struck and damaged a parked car belonging to Richard Webster, who was insured by State Farm. The accident occurred outside the building where both Tomai-Minogue and Webster worked. Plaintiff offered to pay for the damage, and at Webster's request wrote him a check for $100.00. Subsequently, Webster filed a claim with State Farm and was paid $230.90, covering the cost of repairs less the $100 deductible under the policy.

Following the accident, State Farm sought reimbursement from plaintiff for Webster's damage claim. Plaintiff received several written notices but did not respond. Eleven months after the accident, State Farm forwarded its subrogation claim to attorney Michael Miller for collection. Miller wrote to plaintiff but likewise received no response. Miller then filed suit in the District Court for Prince George's County, Maryland against Tomai-Minogue on October 25, 1982. The complaint stated that the accident occurred in Washington, D.C., and listed plaintiff's address as Falls Church, Virginia. Plaintiff received notice of the small claims action at her Virginia address, and, after consulting with her attorney, elected not to appear in the Maryland action. On February 9, 1983, the Maryland court entered a default judgment against Tomai-Minogue for $230.90.

State Farm next sought enforcement of its judgment in Virginia under the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act. It forwarded a triple seal copy of the Maryland judgment to a Virginia attorney, Walter S. Boone, who sent the judgment to the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles with the request that Tomai-Minogue's license be suspended, as State Farm had instructed. The Virginia DMV, pursuant to the Act, suspended plaintiff's driver's license effective June 6, 1983. Tomai-Minogue received notice of the suspension on June 13.

Page 1232

Loss of her license finally bestirred Tomai-Minogue. She alerted her attorney, who in turn told Miller that the Maryland judgment was lacking in personal jurisdiction. Miller, after determining that jurisdiction was indeed wanting, since neither the place of the accident nor the residence or workplace of Tomai-Minogue was in Maryland, notified both State Farm and Boone. The Maryland judgment was vacated on July 12, 1983 at State Farm's motion. Boone requested the Virginia DMV to reinstate Tomai-Minogue's license on July 7, 1983, explaining the circumstances in a letter. Likewise, Tomai-Minogue's attorney wrote the DMV in September, 1983, requesting an end to the suspension and enclosing a triple seal copy of the order vacating the Maryland judgment. It is unclear precisely when the suspension was lifted, but this had been accomplished by September 1983. Plaintiff never actually surrendered her license, and she still drove on occasion while the suspension was in effect.


We first consider what process Virginia law afforded plaintiff. In the next section, we determine whether more protection was due. 4

The normal operation of the Virginia Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act poses little constitutional difficulty. Though it is settled that a driver's license is a property interest which may not be suspended without some form of hearing, Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535, 91 S.Ct. 1586, 29 L.Ed.2d 90 (1971), the Full Faith and Credit Clause, U.S. Const. art. IV, Sec. 1, permits Virginia to adopt, for purposes of its own compliance with due process, the judgment of a court from another state. Ordinarily, the prior proceeding will have assessed fault arising from the accident, see Bell, 402 U.S. at 540, 91 S.Ct. at 1590, and rendered judgment on the merits. When the Commissioner suspends a license pursuant to Va.Code Sec. 46.1-443, he can rest upon the authenticated copy of the prior judgment as proof that a pre-termination hearing has occurred. 5

Tomai-Minogue's case, however, displays an unusual wrinkle. Like any defendant, she had the opportunity to appear in Maryland court either to contest jurisdiction or fault. The district court ruled that because plaintiff had the opportunity to make a special appearance in Maryland to challenge personal jurisdiction, due process required nothing more. We think this a questionable line of argument. For to assert her rights as a matter of procedural due process, Tomai-Minogue would be compelled to forego other due process rights, in particular the privilege not to appear in a jurisdiction lacking even minimum contacts. International Shoe Co. v. State of Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 66 S.Ct. 154, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945). In other contexts, the Supreme Court has found it "intolerable that one constitutional right should have to be surrendered in order to assert another." Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S. 377, 394, 88 S.Ct. 967, 976, 19 L.Ed.2d 1247 (1968). 6

We need not decide whether a state can rely on the opportunity for a special appearance in a foreign jurisdiction as the sole basis for depriving an individual of a property right. For contrary to plaintiff's evident assumption, examination of the relevant Virginia law reveals that Virginia would have entertained a post-deprivation

Page 1233

attack on the Maryland judgment for want of personal jurisdiction in its courts. 7

Va.Code Sec. 46.1-437(a) authorizes an appeal by any party aggrieved by the Commissioner's suspension of his license to the Virginia courts. Only where revocation is mandatory is no appeal permitted except on the narrow question of identity. Thus, the essential inquiry, in determining whether personal jurisdiction for the Maryland judgment could be appealed in a Virginia forum, is whether deprivation of the license is actually mandatory. Va.Code Sec. 46.1-443 makes suspension of a license mandatory when a judgment...

To continue reading