Uchenna Ugo-Alum et al v. New York State Department of Motor Vehicles
Written By: Benjamin Goldman, Esq.
In May of 2020, a class-action lawsuit was filed in the New York County Supreme Court (trial level) against the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The name of the case is Uchenna Ugo-Alum et al v. New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. The crux of the claim is that the DMV unlawfully ordered – and continues to unlawfully order – the suspension of former New Yorkers who moved out of state.
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.
Crux of Lawsuit
This is the typical scenario that gives rise to the instant lawsuit. 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. It has continued for years because defendants are not interested in the costs and hassle of trying to get the ticket dismissed. The criminal charges are usually reduced to non-criminal charges once the DRA is satisfied. If there is an easy way out of the criminal charges, it then becomes uneconomical to try to get it dismissed.
Our firm has blogged about this in the past and we agree 100% with the validity of the lawsuit. It is our hope that the DMV will correct their method of handling DRA’s and that the court will make whole those drivers that were unfairly arrested and/or cited with criminal charges.