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Indiana Court of Appeals: BMV Information Verification Program Serves Public Interest
Posted in Litigation

On Friday, in Leone v. Commissioner, Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with class members that a BMV policy lacked ascertainable standards to revoke drivers’ licenses and therefore violated constitutional guarantees of due process, but still affirmed the trial court’s denial of injunctive relief because the requested injunctive relief would not be in the public interest.

In 2005, the BMV and Social Security Administration entered an agreement wherein the BMV would verify its records against those kept by the SSA.  Beginning in 2007, when the BMV records did not match the SSA records, the BMV issued a series of letters to those license holders providing instructions regarding steps to be taken to update the information and/or clarify the inconsistency or face invalidation of their driver’s licenses or identification cards.  The certified class consisted of those threatened license holders.  

The Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that the BMV’s policy requiring persons to update their information did not violate Indiana law.  The Court noted that while a person may be free to change his or her name, “the ability to change one’s name at will does not equate to freedom from all of the consequences of such a decision.”  The “public interest in preventing identity theft requires that one must bear the consequences, including the inconveniences, of changing one’s name.”  The Court was unwilling to invalidate the administrative program without clear authority that it violated Indiana law.  It further concluded that implicit in the BMV’s authority is the power to verify the information given by an applicant “by any reasonable method.”     

However, the Court held that the BMV had “failed to articulate ascertainable standards for current license and identification card holders, and the policy therefore fails to comport with the requirements of due process.”  The Court noted that the BMV notices were also inconsistent with one another.  Thus, while “the BMV can require and is requiring a match between its information and SSA’s, we believe that the BMV has failed to give the class members fair notice regarding this requirement.”  Thus, the Class was relieved of its burden of proving irreparable harm and that the balance of harms weighs in its favor.  

But, the Court further concluded that the BMV policy served the public good and public interest by preventing identity theft: “We do not doubt that the loss of a driver’s license or identification card could be highly inconvenient, but we imagine that, as a general rule, being the victim of identity theft would be far worse.”  For that reason, the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision not to enter an injunction.

Judge Riley dissented, observing that each of the individual class representatives had provided to the BMV their “full legal names,” as required by statute.  The dissent further stated, “If the BMV now thinks that in the day and age of identity theft that applicants for drivers licenses or identification cards should provide their name as it appears in the SSA database, then the BMV has the opportunity to approach our legislature and seek an amendment to Indiana Code sections 9-24-11-5(a)(1) and 9-24-16-3(b)(1).”

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