Grover v. COM., DEPT. OF TRANSP.

Citation734 A.2d 941
PartiesRobert T. GROVER, Appellant, v. COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, BUREAU OF DRIVER LICENSING.
Decision Date26 July 1999
CourtCommonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

Craig A. Sopin, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Marc A. Werlinsky, Asst. Counsel, and Timothy P. Wile, Asst. Counsel In-Charge, Harrisburg, for appellee.

Before DOYLE, J., PELLEGRINI, J., and McCLOSKEY, Senior Judge.

McCLOSKEY, Senior Judge.

Robert T. Grover (Grover), appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County (trial court), dismissing his appeal of the Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing's (DOT) decision to suspend his license for a period of one year, as a result of his conviction pursuant to Section 3731 of the Vehicle Code (Code), 75 Pa.C.S. § 3731, driving under the influence.1 We reverse and remand.

On March 12, 1996, Grover was convicted of driving under the influence pursuant to Section 3731 of the Code. The Clerk of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas certified the conviction on July 18, 1996. However, DOT did not mail notice of Grover's license suspension until February 9, 1998. Grover then appealed this action to the trial court.

A hearing de novo was held on August 31, 1998. At the hearing, Grover argued that the delay in imposing his sentence was unreasonable and prejudicial to him. In response, DOT asserted that it was not responsible for the delay, arguing that it did not receive the conviction certification until February 2, 1998, based on the certification's Work Identification Device (WID) number.2

Citing Fordham v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 663 A.2d 868, 871 (Pa.Cmwlth.1995), the trial court concluded that the delay in reporting Grover's conviction rested with the Clerk of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, not DOT. Consequently, the trial court dismissed Grover's appeal.

On appeal to this Court,3 Grover argues that the trial court erred in denying his appeal. Specifically, he contends that the delay in suspension is attributable to DOT, that the delay was clearly unreasonable and that he was prejudiced by the delay.

On numerous occasions, this Court has faced factual scenarios similar to the one presently before us, i.e., a licensee asserts that he has suffered a prejudicial delay between his conviction and his license suspension. We note, however, that there appears to be some confusion regarding which party has the burden of providing proof of the delay.

For example, in the case of Department of Transportation v. Turner, 155 Pa. Cmwlth. 106, 624 A.2d 759 (1993), we stated that, "It is the Department's burden to prove that delay was caused not by administrative inaction but by some other factor not chargeable to DOT." Turner, 624 A.2d at 761. Nevertheless, in the more recent case of Pokoy v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 714 A.2d 1162 (Pa.Cmwlth.1998), we stated that in order for a licensee to successfully challenge a license suspension, he "bears the burden of establishing: (1) that there was an unreasonable delay that was attributable to DOT; and (2) that the delay caused [the licensee] to believe that [his] operating privileges would not be impaired and that [he] relied on this belief to [his] detriment." Pokoy, 714 A.2d at 1164.

Although these cases may at first glance appear to be in conflict, we believe that they can nonetheless be harmonized. Clearly, in an appeal from a license suspension, DOT has the burden of proving a licensee's underlying conviction. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing v. Meckler, 160 Pa.Cmwlth. 609, 635 A.2d 718 (1993). When a licensee challenges such a suspension by offering the defense of delay, we conclude that DOT must then prove that the delay was caused not by administrative inaction but by some other factor not chargeable to DOT. Turner.4

In the event that DOT meets this burden, the licensee's appeal should then be dismissed. However, if DOT fails to set forth the requisite proof, the burden then returns to the licensee to prove that he has suffered prejudice as a result of the delay. Pokoy; Turner.

In clarifying these burdens, we have not changed the manner in which evidence has heretofore been presented in suspension proceedings involving delay. See e.g., Fordham (DOT was the party to present evidence regarding the date the notice of conviction was received). Clearly, it would be illogical to force a licensee to prove at what time DOT received the notice of conviction. Because DOT has more ready access to the resources necessary to prove this crucial point, and has attempted to present such evidence in this and other suspension hearings, we do not believe that we are articulating a new rule of law. Instead, we are merely setting forth, with greater clarity, what has been the practice to date.

With these factors in mind, we turn to the facts of the instant action. Here, DOT proved Grover's underlying conviction by introducing the conviction certification to the trial court. Because Grover argued that the delay in receiving his notice of suspension was unreasonable, DOT had the additional burden of proving it was not responsible for the delay. We conclude that DOT did not meet its burden.

After introducing the conviction certification as evidence, DOT failed to present testimony explaining the use and significance of WID numbers. Instead, DOT relied on its attorney's explanation of the use of WID numbers.5 However, it is well-settled that an attorney's statements or questions at trial are not evidence. Commonwealth v. LaCava, 542 Pa. 160, 666 A.2d 221 (1995).

Furthermore, we do not believe that the trial court could properly have taken judicial notice of the meaning of the WID number. In Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Wolf, 66 Pa.Cmwlth. 334, 444 A.2d 811, 812 (1982) (citations omitted), this Court discussed computer-generated numbers like the ones at issue, stating:

Although this court has become familiar with that computer-generated number,... our knowledge, which is not shared by every trial judge or motorist or attorney, cannot be read into every license suspension appeal record. Judicial knowledge is not the same as judicial notice permitting formal proof to be omitted, ... at least where the fact is not part of universal awareness.

Similarly, in Turner, this Court held that the trial court's refusal to take judicial notice of DOT's use of WID numbers was correct because DOT had presented no direct evidence as to when it had received the notice of conviction. As in the instant case, DOT did not present any witnesses to testify regarding when it received the notice and DOT's attorney's...

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17 cases
  • Mateskovich v. COM., DEPT. OF TRANSP.
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
    • June 29, 2000
    ...However, because an attorney's statements at trial are not evidence, counsel's statements cannot be considered. See Grover v. Department of Transportation, 734 A.2d 941 5. Our scope of review of a trial court's decision regarding a driver's license suspension is limited to determining wheth......
  • Singleton v. Johnson
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
    • July 5, 2007
    ...Moreover, "it is well-settled that an attorney's statements . . . at trial are not evidence." Grover v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 734 A.2d 941, 944 (Pa.Cmwlth.1999). Thus, an attorney's statements "cannot be considered." Mateskovich v. Department of Transport......
  • Cesare v. Commonwealth of Pa.
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
    • March 11, 2011
    ...must then prove that the delay was caused by some factor other than mere administrative inaction. Grover v. Dep't. of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing, 734 A.2d 941, 943 (Pa.Cmwlth.1999). If the Department meets this burden, the licensee's appeal should be dismissed. Id. If the Departmen......
  • Orloff v. Com.
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
    • December 18, 2006
    ...burden to prove that the delay was caused by some factor other than mere administrative inaction. Grover v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 734 A.2d 941 Admitting that the five-year delay in this case was unreasonable, PennDOT counters by contending that Licensee d......
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