Fisher v. Com., Dept. of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing

Decision Date24 September 1996
Citation682 A.2d 1353
PartiesJohn Paul FISHER v. COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, BUREAU OF DRIVER LICENSING, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Commonwealth Court

Marc A. Werlinsky, Assistant Counsel, and Timothy P. Wile, Assistant Counsel In-Charge, for Appellant.

John S. McVeigh, for Appellee.

Before SMITH and FLAHERTY, JJ., and RODGERS, Senior Judge.

SMITH, Judge.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing (DOT) appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County that sustained the appeal of John Paul Fisher (Fisher) from DOT's reinstatement of the suspension of his operating privileges originally imposed pursuant to Section 1543(c)(1) of the Vehicle Code (Code), as amended, 75 Pa.C.S. § 1543(c)(1). The questions presented on appeal are whether DOT unreasonably delayed reinstating the suspension of Fisher's license and whether this delay resulted in prejudice to Fisher.

On March 19, 1991, Fisher was convicted of driving while his license was suspended. On August 5, 1991, DOT notified Fisher that his operating privileges were scheduled to be suspended for one year pursuant to Section 1543(c)(1). On September 5, 1991, Fisher filed a pro se petition with the court of common pleas appealing the notice of suspension. Instead of forwarding the petition to a judge, the Court Administrator sent a notice to Fisher informing him that the petition had been filed beyond the 30-day statutory period for appeals. Fisher interpreted this notice as a denial of his appeal and assumed that his license would be suspended. In the meantime, DOT received a copy of the appeal and a proposed and unsigned order for supersedeas. No further action was taken by either party on the appeal, and DOT restored Fisher's operating privileges on two subsequent occasions.

On October 1, 1993, the Buck's County Prothonotary notified Fisher and DOT that Fisher's appeal was terminated due to the lack of docket activity, but the notice sent to Fisher was returned as undeliverable. After advertising the notice, the Prothonotary officially terminated Fisher's appeal on August 25, 1995. On that same day, Fisher received a notice from DOT informing him that pursuant to his conviction four years earlier, his license was scheduled to be suspended. Fisher appealed the notice of suspension to the court of common pleas. Following a hearing, the trial court concluded that DOT had unreasonably delayed reinstating the suspension and that Fisher had suffered prejudice because of this delay. The trial court sustained Fisher's appeal. 1

DOT contends that the trial court committed an error of law when it concluded that DOT had unreasonably delayed reinstating the suspension of Fisher's license. It is well established that to sustain an appeal on the basis of delay, the licensee must prove that an unreasonable delay chargeable to DOT led the licensee to believe that his or her operating privileges would not be impaired and that prejudice would result by having the operating privileges suspended after such delay. Bennett v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 163 Pa.Cmwlth. 664, 642 A.2d 1139 (1994), appeal dismissed as improvidently granted, 543 Pa. 623, 673 A.2d 921 (1996).

Following a hearing, the trial court concluded that DOT was free to reinstate the suspension of Fisher's operating privilege as early as September 1991, because the supersedeas order forwarded to DOT was unsigned and was, therefore, non-binding. DOT does not disagree with this conclusion; however, it contends that it was unable to reinstate the suspension of Fisher's operating privilege prior to August 25, 1995 because Fisher's appeal was still pending before the trial court, and pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S. § 1550(b)(1), as amended, 2 Fisher was still entitled to a supersedeas.

The trial court found that Fisher's appeal was untimely because it was filed 31 days after the notification of suspension. Although DOT stated at trial and in its brief to this Court that it has interpreted Section 1550(b)(1) as mandating supersedeas only where a statutory appeal has been timely filed, DOT claims that it is its policy to grant supersedeas even if an appeal was filed out of time so long as it occurred within 14 days of the 30-day statutory appeal period. DOT has failed, however, to cite any justification or authority for this policy, which conflicts with case law that a court may not grant supersedeas to a licensee who did not timely appeal the revocation of his or her license. See Appeal of Patchel, 133 Pa.Cmwlth. 270, 575 A.2d 966 (1990). Thus because Fisher's appeal was untimely and the proposed order for supersedeas from the trial court was unsigned, this Court concludes that DOT was not required to grant supersedeas pursuant to Section 1550(b)(1).

DOT also contends that the delay in reinstating the suspension of Fisher's license is attributable to administrative errors by the trial court and to Fisher's failure to take any action on his appeal. DOT cites Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing v. Richardson, 167 Pa.Cmwlth. 630, 648 A.2d 1308 (1994), appeal denied, 541 Pa. 644, 663 A.2d 695 (1995), and Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety v....

To continue reading

Request your trial
14 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Middaugh, 45 MAP 2019
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • January 20, 2021
  • Terraciano v. COM., DEPT. OF TRANSP.
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • June 23, 2000
    ... ... COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, BUREAU OF DRIVER LICENSING, Appellee ... Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ... Fisher v. Department of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing, 682 A.2d 1353, 1355 ... ...
  • Mickens-Thomas v. Com., Bd. of Probation and Parole
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
    • August 12, 1997
    ...hearing within 120 days after the parolee was taken into custody in violation of 37 Pa.Code § 71.4(1)); Fisher v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 682 A.2d 1353 (Pa.Cmwlth.1996) (the license suspension appeal was sustained because the Department unreasonably delayed......
  • Cesare v. Commonwealth of Pa.
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
    • March 11, 2011
    ...to his detriment, believing that his privileges were no longer impaired due to the excessive delay. Fisher v. Dep't. of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing, 682 A.2d 1353, 1356 (Pa.Cmwlth.1996). In other words, a licensee proves prejudice by demonstrating that he changed his circumstances t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT