Escobedo v. State Dept. of Motor Vehicles

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation222 P.2d 1,35 Cal.2d 870
Decision Date13 September 1950

David C. Marcus, Los Angeles, for petitioner.

Fred N. Howser, Attorney General, Walter L. Bowers, Assistant Attorney General, and E. G. Funke, Deputy Attorney General, for respondents.

SCHAUER, Justice.

Petitioner asks that this court by mandate direct respondents, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Director of Motor Vehicles of this state, to 're-issue, return or reinstate Petitioner's operator's license and/or driving privileges to operate a motor vehicle in this State.' In September, 1948, respondents, without according petitioner a hearing, suspended his operator's license under the then provisions of sections 419 through 420.9 of the Vehicle Code (Stats. 1947, ch. 1235). These provisions constituted chapter 3 of division VII of the Code, entitled 'Security Following Accident'; they became operative July 1, 1948. 1 It is petitioner's position that the application of this law to him denied him due process and equal protection (U. S. Const., Amdt. XIV, § 1; Cal. Const., art. I, §§ 11, 13) and vested judicial power in 'a purely ministerial 'department" in violation of the state Constitution (art. III, § 1; art. VI, § 1). We have concluded that petitioner's contentions should not be sustained and that upon the showing made the suspension of his license is legally tenable.

On July 1, 1948, petitioner held a valid license to drive a motor vehicle in California; on that date he operated a vehicle which was involved in a collision with another such vehicle at an intersection of public highways in this state. In August, 1948, petitioner received from respondents a written notice stating that because of the July 1 accident and because petitioner had 'failed to otherwise meet the security requirements of Section 420 of the Vehicle Code,' he was required to deposit with respondent department, on or before September 11, 1948, security in the sum of $2,800. The notice further stated that petitioner's 'driving privilege and all licenses evidencing such privilege is (sic) hereby suspended as of' September 11, 1948, unless the deposit was made prior to that date, and that the suspension would 'remain in effect until evidence satisfactory to the Department has been filed indicating that the security requirements of Section 420.2 of the Vehicle code have been met.' Petitioner is a gardener by occupation and 'requires the use of his automobile' and his license to operate it in order to 'transport himself and his tools between his different places of employment * * * and to earn a livelihood for himself and his family (dependent wife and 9 minor children).' He does not have $2,800 'or any like sum' to post as security, is unable to and did not post the security demanded by respondents and, pursuant to the provisions of section 420 of the Vehicle Code, his operator's license was and now is suspended. The Highway Patrol has notified petitioner 'that they intend to arrest and prosecute' him under the provisions of subdivisions (a) and (d) of section 338 of the Vehicle Code, which forbid possession of, and failure to surrender to the department on lawful demand, a suspended license.

The applicable provisions of chapter 3 of division VII of the Vehicle Code (Stats. 1947, ch. 1235) which were in effect at the time of petitioner's accident and the suspension of his license are as follows:

Section 419 required that the operator of a motor vehicle involved in an accident in this state which resulted in personal injury, death or property damage exceeding $100 report the matter in writing to the Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days after the accident. Section 420 (subd. (a)) provided that 'The department shall, within 60 days after the receipt of a report of (such) a motor vehicle accident. * * * suspend the license of each operator * * * involved in such accident * * * unless such operator shall deposit security in a sum which shall be sufficient in the judgment of the department to satisfy any judgment or judgments for damages resulting from such accident as may be recovered against such operator. Notice of such suspension shall be sent by the department to such operator not less than 10 days prior to the effective date of such suspension and shall state the amount required as security.' The deposit of security and suspension of license requirements did not apply if the operator or owner of the vehicle had an automobile or other public liability policy or bond covering $5,000 for injury or death of one person, $10,000 for injury or death of more than one person, and $1,000 property damage (Veh. Code § 420, subds. (b), (c), or to a person who had more than 25 vehicles registered in his name and qualified as a selfinsurer (Veh. Code, § 420, subd. (b), par. (4), § 420.7); other situations in which the requirements did not apply are not here material. Suspension of license was to continue until security was deposited, or one year had passed without filing of an action for damages arising out of the accident, or until release from or satisfaction of liability, or final adjudication of non-liability. (Veh. Code, § 420.2.)

Specifically, petitioner urges that the above quoted or summarized sections of the Vehicle Code were unconstitutional in the following respects:

1. The statute violated the due process provisions of the federal Constitution (Amendment XIV, § 1) and the state Constitution (art. I, § 13) in that no provision was made for hearing before the department, or for recourse to the courts, before suspension of a license.

2. Judical power was delegated to an administrative body in violation of the state Constitution (art. III, § 1; art. VI, § 1), in that no sufficient standard was provided to guide the department in determining the amount of security.

3. The effect of the statute was an arbitary discrimination in violation of the equal protection clause of the federal Constitution (Amendment XIV, § 1) and the uniform operation of laws provision of the state Constitution (art. I, § 11) in that: (a) The posting of security by a driver who might not be culpable was required, before his liability was judically determined. (b) Those who were financially able to carry insurance or post security were favored as against those who were not. (c) The provisions permitting any person in whose name more than 25 motor vehicles were registered to qualify as a self-insurer created an arbitrary classification.

Hearing, Due Process

There was no express provision in sections 419 through 420.9 of the Vehicle Code (Stats. 1947, ch. 1235) concerning hearing before determination by the department that security must be deposited or the operator's license suspended. At the time petitioner's license was suspended without hearing, section 315 of the Vehicle Code (Stats. 1947, ch. 431) provided that 'A person shall be entitled to demand in writing a hearing before the director or his representative whenever the department * * * (h)as given notice of the suspension * * * of his privilege of operating a motor vehicle upon a highway or of an operator's * * * license issued to such person,' but it further provided that 'The * * * licensee shall not be entitled to a hearing under this section whenever such action by the department is made mandatory upon the department by the provisions of this code.' 2 Since suspension of petitioner's license for failure to deposit security was mandatory (Veh. Code, § 420) whenever it had been determined that a motor vehicle accident had occurred and damages exceeding $100 ensued which probably might result in 'a judgment or judgments for damages * * * recovered against such operator,' it is apparent that it was not contemplated that the department necessarily should give an operator opportunity to be heard before it determined the amount of security required and notified him that his license would be suspended unless he deposited such sum. Thus we have for decision an aspect of the question expressly left open in Ratliff v. Lampton (1948), 32 Cal.2d 226, 233, 195 P.2d 792, 10 A.L.R.2d 826: 'Whether such summary procedure might be justified under the police power in some instances * * *.'

Fundamentally it must be recognized that in this country 'Highways are for the use of the traveling public, and all have * * * the right to use them in a reasonable and proper manner, and subject to proper regulations as to the manner of use.' (13 Cal.Jur. 371, § 59.) 'The streets of a city belong to the people of the state, and the use thereof is an inalienable right of every citizen, subject to legislative control or such reasonable regulations as to the traffic thereon or the manner of using them as the legislature may deem wise or proper to adopt and impose.' (19 Cal.Jur. 54, § 407.) 'Streets and highways are established and maintained primarily for purposes of travel and transportation by the public, and uses incidental thereto. Such travel may be for either business or pleasure * * *. The use of highways for purposes of travel and transportation is not a mere privilege, but a common and fundamental right, of which the public and individuals cannot rightfully be deprived * * *. (A)ll persons have an equal right to use them for purposes of travel by proper means, and with due regard for the corresponding rights of others.' (25 Am.Jur. 456-457, § 163; see also 40 C.J.S., Highways, § 233, pp. 244-247.) Notwithstanding such general principles characterizing the primary right of the individual, it is equally well established (as is recognized of the highways is subject to reasonable of the highways in subject to reasonable regulation for the public good. In this connection, the constitutionality of various types of financial responsibility laws has been often upheld against contentions that they violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment....

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  • Burg v. Municipal Court, S.F. 24622
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    ...(Hernandez v. Department of Motor Vehicles (1981) 30 Cal.3d 70, 74, 177 Cal.Rptr. 566, 634 P.2d 917; accord, Escobedo v. State of California (1950) 35 Cal.2d 870, 876, 222 P.2d 1 ["usage of the highways is subject to reasonable regulation for the public good"]; Watson v. Division of Motor V......
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    ...vehicles were registered to qualify as a self-insurer created an arbitrary classification." (Escobedo v. State Department of Motor Vehicles of California (1950) 35 Cal.2d 870, 874, 222 P.2d 1, 4.) Real parties in interest insist that procedural due process requires that uninsured motorists ......
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