COA: Trial court lacked jurisdiction to order BMV to act

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The Indiana Court of Appeals found in favor of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles Monday after finding that a litigant’s failure to comply with the Administrative Order and Procedures Act left a trial court without jurisdiction to order the BMV to act on the litigant’s petition.

As a construction worker for almost 25 years, Craig Watson operates certain types of trucks that require him to maintain a chauffeur’s license. However, when Watson attempted to renew his license in 2015, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles denied him, holding that he must first resolve a suspended license dispute with the state of Illinois dating to 2000.

Watson administratively appealed the denial of his license renewal, but in December 2015 the BMV held that the renewal was “properly denied … due to the Illinois suspension.” A week later, Watson filed for special driving privileges, which the Lake Circuit Court granted but that the BMV refused to issue because of the suspended Illinois license.

Watson then moved to compel the BMV or to issue a valid driver’s license. The trial court granted both of Watson’s motions, holding that the section of Indiana Code the BMV had been using as its basis for its denial related to the issuance of a new license, not renewal of an existing license.

The Indiana Attorney General then filed a motion to intervene and to correct error, alleging that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction to order the BMV to issue the chauffeur’s license.  The motion to correct held that Watson’s motion to issue a valid driver’s license credential was a petition for judicial review requiring service upon the Attorney General of Indiana.

The Lake Circuit Court denied the motion to correct error, prompting the BMV’s appeal.  The state agency argued that the trial court had impermissibly engaged in judicial review of an agency decision and, further, that because the trial court reviewed an administrative action of a state agency, Watson was required to follow the Indiana Administrative Orders and Procedures Act. That act requires, among other things, serving the Indiana Attorney General, and because Watson failed to do so, the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction.

A panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals sided with the BMV Monday, with Judge Margret Robb writing that Watson’s motion to compel issuance of specialized driving privileges or to issue a valid driver’s license credential was a petition for judicial review of the BMV’s decision, thus invoking the procedures of the AOPA.

However, in 2016, the Indiana General Assembly amended Indiana Code sections 4-21.5-2-5 and 9-33-1-1 to exclude BMV actions from judicial review under AOPA, an amendment Watson argued should be applied retroactively. But Robb wrote Monday that the Legislature did not specify that the amendment should be applied retroactively, and even if it had, doing so would not be to Watson’s benefit because his actions did not comply with Indiana Code article 9-33.

Finally, Robb wrote that because Watson failed to serve the Indiana Attorney General in his petition for judicial review, the BMV was unrepresented, so his service of process was ineffective and the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction to order the BMV to issue the chauffeur’s license.

The case is Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and Kent Abernathy, Commissioner of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles v. Craig Watson, 45A03-1607-MI-1538.



  • Unrepresented?
    Wasn't the local prosecutor's office involved at the trial court level representing to BMV? I've personally never witnessed the Attorney General's Office representing the BMV at the SDP hearings.

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