Orr v. Superior Court of City and County of San Francisco

Citation77 Cal.Rptr. 816,454 P.2d 712,71 Cal.2d 220
Decision Date29 May 1969
Docket NumberS.F. 22651
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 454 P.2d 712 Verne ORR, as Director, etc., et al., Petitioners, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF the CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO, Respondent; Peter ALVARADO et al., Real Parties in Interest.

Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen., and Vistor D. Sonenberg, Deputy Atty. Gen., for petitioners.

No appearance for respondent.

Gilbert T. Graham, Norman Nayfach, Peter E. Sitkin, Steven J. Antler, San Francisco, Robert Y. Bell, Santa Rosa, Sidney M. Wolinsky and Robert F. Spence, San Francisco, for real parties in interest.

BURKE, Justice.

The Department of Motor Vehicles and its director seek prohibition to restrain respondent superior court from taking any further action or proceedings in an action against them in which real parties in interest (the vehicle drivers or operators) pray for judgment declaring portions of the financial responsibility laws (§§ 16080 and 16100 OF THE VEH.CODE )1 unconstitutional and void in and of themselves and as applied to such drivers, and for restoration of their driving privileges and licenses. 2 As will appear we have concluded that the writ should be denied and the lower court authorized to proceed subject to the principles expressed in this opinion.

In the spring of 1967 real parties in interest were uninsured drivers of vehicles which were involved in accidents on California highways. Thereafter the department sent a notice to each such driver to either post security with the department as required by section 16020 3 or risk suspension of driving license and vehicle registration under sections 16080 and 16100. Each driver failed to post the security requested, and accordingly the department ordered that the driver's license and registration of each be suspended.

The drivers then filed a petition for prohibition and mandate with respondent court, asking that the department be directed to set aside the suspension orders. 4 They alleged inter alia that they were not at fault in their respective accidents, that the department had required security deposits from them without regard to the question of their negligence or culpability, that they were without sufficient funds to purchase insurance before the accidents or to post the after-required security, and that without valid drivers' licenses they were deprived of the right to be gainfully employed.

The department answered contending that no determination of blame or liability was required as a prerequisite to its demand for the posting of security, and that unless the person was specifically exempted by statute (§§ 16050--16057), involvement in an accident was the only criterion to be considered by the department before fixing the amount of security. Each side thereafter moved for summary judgment, which the court denied with the following order: '* * * the matter will be set on the Court's calendar for hearing. If, upon the trial, it appears from the evidence that (the drivers) were without fault as to the accidents * * *, a writ of mandate will issue compelling respondent (department) to restore their licenses.' This petition by the department for prohibition followed.

In Escobedo v. State of California (1950) 35 Cal.2d 870, 222 P.2d 1, the provisions of the financial responsibility laws governing the suspension of a driver's license for failure to post security were upheld by this court against attack on various constitutional grounds, including: (1) Charges that the statute violated the due process provisions of federal and state Constitutions in not providing for hearing before the department or for recourse to the courts before suspension of a license; (2) charges of arbitrary discrimination which denied equal protection and uniform operation of the law in that the posting of security by a driver who might not be culpable was required, before his liability had been judicially determined.

With respect to the due process attack we noted in Escobedo, supra (pp. 874--875, 222 P.2d 1), that the statute (Stats.1947, ch. 1235, pp. 2738--2743, adding former §§ 419--420.9 to the Veh.Code; see present §§ 16000--16084) did not expressly provide for a hearing before determination by the department that security must be deposited or the operator's license suspended; that under the statute the licensee was not entitled to a hearing when suspension was mandatory (former § 315, see present §§ 13950--13953 and 14101, subd. (a)); that suspension was mandatory for failure to deposit security '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" (former § 420; see present § 16020); that the statute in recognition and acceptance of the due process requirement contemplated court review following suspension of a license. (Former § 317; see present § 14400.)

Accordingly, we held in Escobedo (pp. 876--877, 222 P.2d p. 6), that suspension of the license without prior hearing but subject to subsequent judicial review did not violate due process if reasonably justified by a compelling public interest, and that such interest appeared from the obvious carelessness and financial irresponsibility of such a substantial number of drivers that 'it is apparent that to require a hearing in every case before suspension of a license would have substantially burdened and delayed if not defeated the operation of the law.'

With respect to the equal protection and culpability issue Escobedo noted (p. 878, 222 P.2d p. 6) that the statute requires security only of those operators involved in an accident against whom, in the opinion of the department, a judgment might be recovered. We held that 'Inasmuch as the recovery of a judgment depends, in theory at least, upon culpability, it would seem that the statute, presumptively properly administered, was not open to the objection that under it the nonculpable were subject to arbitrary discrimination.' Additionally, in response to charges that the statute invalidly delegated judicial power to the department in failing to provide a sufficient standard to guide it in determining the amount of security to be required, Escobedo pointed out (pp. 877--878, 222 P.2d p. 6) that although the Legislature did not provide detailed directions as to the manner in which the department was to reach a 'judgment' as to the amount of security required, it did specify as a guide (in former § 420, present § 16020) the probable size of 'any (court) judgment' which 'may be recovered.' Our holding was that 'The facts and legal principles governing the recovery of judgments for damages are a matter of public knowledge and provide a reasonable sufficiently certain standard to be followed by the department.'

In the present case the vehicle drivers concede before this court that the state can legitimately require security of the uninsured motorist against whom there is a reasonable possibility that a judgment may be recovered by persons injured or otherwise damaged by his negligent driving. This, of course, is the statutory standard we recognized in Escobedo. However, the drivers suggest that principles set forth in Sokol v. Public Utilities Commission (1966) 65 Cal.2d 247, 53 Cal.Rptr. 673, 418 P.2d 265, and in Endler v. Schutzbank (1968) 68 Cal.2d 162, 65 Cal.Rptr. 297, 436 P.2d 297, require reappraisal of Escobedo's approval of the statutory scheme permitting license suspension without prior department hearing. Sokol noted the Escobedo holding, as well as those of other cases sustaining various summary proceedings without prior hearing, and considered them distinguishable. (Pp. 253--254 of 65 Cal.2d, 53 Cal.Rptr. 673, 418 P.2d 265.) Sokol did recognize that a telephone is indispensable to legitimate business operations in modern commercial society (pp. 254--255, 53 Cal.Rptr. 673, 418 P.2d 265), but it did not accord the subscriber a predisconnection hearing; it held only that the utility cannot be ordered to disconnect on receipt of a conclusionary notice from a law enforcement official, and that 'whatever new procedure is hereafter devised must at a minimum require that the police obtain prior authorization to secure the termination of service by satisfying an impartial tribunal that they have probable cause to act, in a manner reasonably comparable to a proceeding before a magistrate to obtain a search warrant. In addition, after service is terminated the subscriber must be promptly afforded the opportunity to challenge the allegations of the police and to secure restoration of the service.' (P. 256 of 65 Cal.2d, p. 679 of 53 Cal.Rptr., p. 271 of 418 P.2d.)

Endler held that 'fundamental fairness requires that an individual be permitted to defend himself publicly against official charges, however informal, which threaten to stain his personal and professional future' (68 Cal.2d at p. 180, 65 Cal.Rptr. at p. 309, 436 P.2d at p. 309), and that the employee there involved was entitled to a hearing in order to secure reinstatement or a new position after his discharge. However, the form the hearing was to take was left for future determination. (Pp. 181--182, 65 Cal.Rptr. 297, 436 P.2d 297.) Nothing in Endler overrules or casts doubt upon Escobedo.

On the other hand and despite the fact that, as Escobedo recognizes, the statute requires the department to find that there is a reasonable possibility that a judgment may be recovered against an uninsured operator before it can demand security and suspend his license if he fails to post it, the department contends that Involvement in an accident resulting in damage or injury (see § 16020, fn. 3, Ante) is the only criterion for applying the statute, that it need make no determination of culpability other than to ascertain whether the driver so involved falls within one of the exemptions specified...

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