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A class-action lawsuit just filed in federal court by a frum man alleges that the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) unlawfully ordered – and continues to unlawfully order – the suspension of driving privileges of former New Yorkers who moved out of state, including New Jersey.

The class-action suit against the DMV was originally filed in May 2020 in the New York County Supreme Court (trial level).

The Plaintiffs Asher Berkovic, a former Brooklyn resident who currently resides in Quebec, and Uchenna Ugo-Alum, a former Queens resident who currently resides in New Jersey, allege that some serious faults in the systems used at the New York DMV have landed them with unlawful suspensions of their driving privileges.

Here's the background information:

If a motorist amasses 6 DMV points for traffic violations in the span of 18 months they are charged a Driver Responsibility Assessment (DRA) fee. This DRA needs to be paid by New York drivers and out of state drivers. If an out of state driver fails to pay the DRA, the New York DMV suspends their privileges to drive in New York. If an out of state motorist drives in New York while their New York driving privileges are suspended, they are subject to arrest and criminal charges.

Say a New Yorker moves out of state. The former New Yorker changes their license properly by applying for a license in their home state and handing in their old New York license.

Then say for example this former New Yorker drives in New York and is issued a ticket for driving 77 mph in a 55 mph zone. He sends back the ticket to the court with a guilty plea. The court mails him a Fine Notice. He pays the fine notice. The ticket lists his new address. The court sends the Fine Notice to the new address. All communication with the court proceeds properly and all fines are paid timely.

At this point, the driver also has to pay a DRA because a ticket for driving 22 mph over the speed limit is a 6 point ticket. The DMV will then send the notice to pay the DRA to the driver’s old New York address. The DMV knows about the new address because New York is part of the Driver License Compact, which lists the address of out of state drivers. The DMV also knows about the new address from the address listed on the ticket. The new address was used by the court to communicate about the ticket and to pay the fine for the ticket.

However, when it comes to sending a bill for the DRA, for some unbeknownst reason, the New York DMV sends the bill to the old New York address. This could be an address from 20 years ago! Mail forwarding has long ceased and the person living at this New York address never heard of the person listed on the mail. What inevitably often happens is that this former New Yorker is not aware of the DRA, fails to get the DRA notice from the DMV, has his New York driving privileges suspended, continues driving in New York, gets pulled over again in New York for a traffic violation, and gets arrested and charged criminally for driving in New York with suspended driving privileges.

Needless to say, this is unfair and unlawful. Shockingly, this issue has continued for years.

This is the unfair practice which this class action suit aims to stop.

The original case which was filed in New York County Supreme Court asserted that the DMV's knowing use of incorrect mailing addresses constitutes a violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I of the NYS Constitution. The Plaintiffs also asserted a claim that the DMV's actions in failing to effectuate adequate notice (i.e., the same violations of due process) are arbitrary and capricious.

The DMV filed a Motion to Dismiss, alleging that the statute of limitations on such claims is 4 months and therefore the instant claims are time barred.

The trial court judge denied this motion, finding that the DMV could not "avoid responsibility for failure to update its records on motorists' current address."

The DMV appealed this ruling to New York's Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department, which ultimately reversed the trial court's ruling.

Undeterred, the Plaintiffs, represented by Frank LLP and Law Office of Zev Goldstein PLLC, have now taken their case to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

The civil complaint asserts:

Plaintiffs possess claims concerning Constitutional violations by the DMV that are valid; that concern an ongoing violative policy by the DMV; that impact countless beyond themselves; and as to which Plaintiffs have been denied redress by New York courts for reasons that have nothing to do with the merits of their claims or the scope of the DMV's liability, which has never been disputed.

There is no basis upon which any Defendant herein validly might assert a defense of immunity under the Eleventh Amendment against Plaintiffs' claims:

The right to maintain driving privileges in compliance with the law and so travel freely is clearly established and protected by the United States Constitution, and cannot be denied absent due process, as the trial court judge emphasized.

Further, no reasonable government agency or official that has responsibilities similar to Defendants' would reasonably find to be lawful the DMV's continuing violations of motorists' Constitutional rights, and refusal to fix the underlying database flaw.

The class-action suit, which was filed by the Plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated demands judgement of injunctive relief, declatory judgement, equitable relief, monetary damages, punitive damages and legal fees and expenses.

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