Middaugh v. Commonwealth

Decision Date31 October 2018
Docket NumberNo. 815 C.D. 2017,815 C.D. 2017
Citation196 A.3d 1073
Parties Stephen MIDDAUGH v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, BUREAU OF DRIVER LICENSING, Appellant
CourtPennsylvania Commonwealth Court

Philip M. Bricknell, Harrisburg, for appellant.

John E. Shields, Jr., Willingboro, NJ, for appellee.



In Gingrich v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing , 134 A.3d 528 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2016) (en banc), we held, premised on arguments raising issues of due process and fairness, that a delay in reporting a licensee's conviction for violating the Vehicle Code,2 even though not attributable to the Department of Transportation, could be the basis upon which a civil license suspension appeal may be sustained, if the licensee demonstrates three factors. Id. at 534-35. First, the licensee must demonstrate that there was an extraordinarily extended delay in the reporting of the licensee's conviction. Second, the licensee must demonstrate that the licensee had no further violations of the Vehicle Code for an extended period. Third, the licensee must demonstrate that the licensee suffered prejudice as a result of the delay. Of these factors, the first, whether the non-Departmental delay constitutes an extraordinarily extended period of time, has become the focus of many appeals based on Gingrich , including the one before us now. Applying the Gingrich factors, the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County (common pleas) sustained the appeal of Steven Middaugh (Licensee) of his one-year license suspension, which was based upon his conviction for driving under the influence (DUI). The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing (Department) has appealed common pleas' Order, arguing common pleas misapplied the first Gingrich factor.

It is undisputed that civil license suspensions play a vital role in protecting the safety of the traveling public by removing from the roads drivers who have violated the Vehicle Code.3 The Department is responsible for imposing these license suspensions when it is informed that a licensee has been convicted of a qualifying offense. Section 3804(e)(1) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 3804(e)(1) ; Dep't of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing v. Green , 119 Pa.Cmwlth. 281, 546 A.2d 767, 769 (1988), aff'd , 524 Pa. 98, 569 A.2d 350 (1990). When a licensee has challenged a license suspension claiming that it was not imposed timely, this Court historically overturned the suspension only when an unreasonable delay was attributable to the Department. See, e.g. , Pokoy v. Dep't of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing , 714 A.2d 1162, 1164 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1998) (stating that only a delay attributable to the Department that causes the licensee to believe, to his or her detriment, that his or her operating privilege will not be suspended supports invalidating a license suspension). However, in Gingrich , this Court recognized that an extraordinary delay in imposing a suspension, though not attributable to the Department, could result in the license suspension losing its "underlying public safety purpose" and become "a punitive measure sought to be imposed too long after the fact." Gingrich , 134 A.3d at 535.

Here, following a hearing, common pleas applied the Gingrich factors and held that Licensee met the burden of proving his license suspension fell within Gingrich. On appeal, the Department challenges common pleas' conclusion that the 2-year, 4-month delay in the Delaware County Office of Judicial Support's (OJS) reporting the conviction to the Department constituted an "extraordinarily extended period of time" when compared to the 10-year delay at issue in Gingrich .4 (Department's Brief (Br.) at 9 (quoting Gingrich , 134 A.3d at 534 ).) After review, we agree with common pleas that OJS's 2-year, 4-month delay in reporting Licensee's conviction to the Department meets the first factor of the Gingrich test. Therefore, we affirm common pleas' sustaining of Licensee's appeal.

I. Background

On September 7, 2013, Licensee was arrested for DUI in violation of Section 3802(a)(2) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 3802(a)(2), to which he pled guilty on March 31, 2014 . OJS, which performs the duties of the clerk of court in Delaware County,5 did not electronically notify the Department of Licensee's conviction until 2 years, 4 months later, on August 8, 2016 . By letter dated August 23, 2016 , the Department advised Licensee that his license would be suspended for one year pursuant to Section 3804(e) of the Vehicle Code6 based upon the March 31, 2014 conviction. Licensee appealed the suspension to common pleas, asserting that, pursuant to Section 6323(1)(i) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 6323(1)(i), OJS was to notify the Department of his conviction within 10 days, but this notification did not occur for approximately 860 days. (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 7a.) This delay, he argued, was "fundamentally unfair and greatly prejudicial" under the circumstances. (Id. )

II. Proceedings Before Common Pleas

Common pleas held a de novo hearing on Licensee's appeal. The Department presented certified copies of Licensee's driving record and the March 31, 2014 conviction, which were admitted into evidence. The Department then rested its case.

Licensee testified and presented documentary evidence. Licensee agreed he was arrested for DUI on September 7, 2013, and pled guilty to that charge on March 31, 2014. At the time of his conviction, Licensee resided with his wife and was employed as an IT professional. (Common Pleas 1925(a) Opinion (1925(a) Op.) at 2.) By the time of the hearing, Licensee was divorced, lived alone, and was unemployed due to a disabling neurological disorder

with which he was diagnosed in 2013 or 2014 and which had worsened. Licensee began receiving total disability benefits in the amount of $1621 per month in May 2016 and has no other income. Licensee's neurological disorder requires him to attend many doctors' appointments, including a monthly visit to one doctor, to which he must drive. He has no one else to drive him to those appointments, did not believe his health insurance would cover transportation, and did not have sufficient funds to use alternate transportation, such as taxis or Uber. Licensee explained he was aware of the civil license suspension when he pled guilty in March 2014, waited to receive that suspension in the mail, and had no idea why he did not receive one earlier but kept waiting. In anticipation of his license suspension, Licensee delayed purchasing a new vehicle to replace his prior vehicle, which had been wrecked in a 2013 accident.

Common pleas credited Licensee's testimony. (Common Pleas May 19, 2017, Findings of Fact ¶ 30.) Common pleas then applied the Gingrich test to the credited testimony. First, common pleas found that the 2-year, 4-month delay was an extraordinarily extended period of time for Licensee's conviction to have been not reported. Second, Licensee did not have "any further violations for a significant number of years." (Id. ¶ 32.) Third, common pleas found Licensee demonstrated prejudice if the license suspension was to be imposed at that late date. Pursuant to Gingrich , common pleas, therefore, sustained Licensee's appeal and reinstated his license.

The Department appealed, and common pleas directed it to file a Statement of Errors Complained of on Appeal (Statement) pursuant to Rule 1925(b) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure, Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b).7 In its Statement, the Department argued common pleas erred in sustaining Licensee's appeal because: it met its burden of proving Licensee's conviction of a crime that required a license suspension; the 2-year, 4-month delay was not chargeable to the Department and, therefore, did not support granting the appeal; and this delay did not qualify for relief under the Gingrich test.

In its responsive opinion, common pleas concluded that, because its decision was supported by Gingrich , the Department's first two arguments did not require a different result. Common pleas explained there was no dispute that Licensee was convicted of a crime that required the suspension of his license. However, if Gingrich applied, Licensee did not have to prove that the delay was chargeable to the Department. (1925(a) Op. at 5-6.) Reviewing Gingrich , common pleas held it was applicable to Licensee's situation and found that the second (no further violations) and third (prejudice) factors of the Gingrich test were satisfied. In regard to the prejudice factor, common pleas pointed to the changes in Licensee's medical and employment situations, as well as to the fact that Licensee delayed purchasing a new vehicle while he waited to receive a notice of suspension. (Id. at 7.)

As to the first factor (length of the delay), common pleas rejected the Department's position that Gingrich was inapplicable because the length of the delay here was not the same as the 10 years in Gingrich . It explained the Department was relying on prior precedent, requiring that a delay be chargeable to the Department to support the grant of an appeal, (id. (citing Pokoy , 714 A.2d 1162 ) ), rather than on Gingrich , which established no specific time or bright line for the length of the requisite delay. In determining whether OJS's delay in notifying the Department was an extraordinarily extended period of time, common pleas sought "guidance as to what [was] reasonable." (Id. at 10.) It found guidance in Section 6323(1)(i) of the Vehicle Code, which "statutorily required" OJS "to report the conviction to [the Department] ‘within ten days after final judgment of conviction.’ "...

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14 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Middaugh, 45 MAP 2019
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • January 20, 2021
    ...driving).1 The Delaware County Office of Judicial Support – the equivalent in that county of a court clerk's office, see Middaugh v. PennDOT , 196 A.3d 1073, 1075 & n.5 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2018) – was required to send PennDOT a record of the conviction within ten days after its occurrence. See 75 ......
  • Ganoe v. Commonwealth, 648 C.D. 2019
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
    • March 2, 2021
    ...with findings of fact and conclusions of law. See 2 Pa. C.S. §§ 504, 507.8 For example, in Middaugh v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing , 196 A.3d 1073 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2018), affirmed , 244 A.3d 426 (Pa., 2021), the entity responsible for reporting the licensee's convic......
  • J.B. v. Pa. State Police
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
    • January 10, 2023
    ...potentially qualify as an extraordinary period of delay for the purposes of a Gingrich analysis. See Middaugh v. Dep't of Transp., Bureau of Driver Licensing , 196 A.3d 1073, 1086 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2018) ( Middaugh I ), aff'd , ––– Pa. ––––, 244 A.3d 426 (2021) ( Middaugh II ) (noting that first......
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    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
    • May 7, 2019
    ...reported for an extraordinarily extended period of time." See id. To that question, this Court, in Middaugh v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing , 196 A.3d 1073 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2018) (en banc), recently clarified what may constitute an extraordinarily extended period of ......
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