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COA rules on 'In God We Trust' plate suit

November 17, 2008

Not charging an administrative fee for Indiana's "In Got We Trust" license plates doesn't violate the state constitution, affirmed the Indiana Court of Appeals today in an unpublished decision.

In Mark Studler v. Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and Ronald L. Stiver, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Indiana BMV, No. 49A02-0804-CV-385, Mark Studler appealed the trial court order denying his motion for summary judgment and granting the Indiana BMV's motion for summary judgment. The suit stems from Studler having to pay $40, including a $15 administrative fee, to get an "Environment" license plate. Studler claimed not charging an administrative fee for the "In God We Trust" license plate, but charging a fee for the purchase of a special group recognition license plate, violated Article I, Section 23 of the Indiana Constitution. In his suit, Studler wanted the court to either allow him to get the "Environment" license plate without paying additional fees or require the BMV to charge for the "In God We Trust" plate.

The appellate court unanimously affirmed the offering of the "In God We Trust" license plates without the payment of an administrative fee to be constitutional. The Court of Appeals concluded the legislature's classification of license plates as Chapter 25 and non-chapter 25 license plates, under Indiana Code Section 9-18-25, is reasonably related to the inherent characteristics of the plates, and having to pay an administrative fee is uniformly applicable to all Chapter 25 license plates and not applicable to non-chapter 25 plates, such as the "In God We Trust" plate.

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