Justices: BMV can require names to match SSA records

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The trial court was correct to find that the public interest in preventing fraudulent use of driver’s licenses trumps some people’s desire to have their commonly used names on their licenses, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled today.

Attorney Lyn Leone and others who received letters from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles alerting them that their names didn’t match records on file with the Social Security Administration sued to prevent the BMV from invalidating their licenses until the names matched in both agencies’ records. They claimed the BMV overstepped its statutory authority by redefining the meaning of “legal name” to exclude anything but that which is on file with the SSA. The trial court denied their preliminary injunction; the Indiana Court of Appeals granted a preliminary injunction as a stay, pending appeal.

In Lyn Leone, et al. v. Commissioner, BMV, No. 49S02-0910-CV-505, the justices dissolved that preliminary injunction, finding that those people whose names in BMV and SSA records don’t match could rectify the matter by just making sure the records match. They could do so by changing their licenses to reflect the same name on record with the SSA, or they could change their name with the SSA.

Under common law, a person may lawfully change his or her name without resorting to any legal proceedings where it doesn’t interfere with the rights of others and isn’t done for a fraudulent purpose. Indiana has required courts to effect a name change, and based on In re Hauptly, 262 Ind. 150, 312 N.E.2d 857 (1974), courts must grant a name change where no evidence of fraud exists, but this doesn’t mean the state has to recognize an informal common-law name change, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

“The modern tendency toward use of government-issued identification in both private and public settings may shrink the field governed by the common law, but both common law and statutory processes have long coexisted with respect to names, as they do in other fields of law. Statutes obliging citizens to engage in some formality when they invoke government processes by applying for benefits or identification cards neither obliterate common-law usage nor are they driven by them,” he wrote.

Also, the SSA has become the “custodian” of basic identifying information and almost all state governments rely on this information to verify identities, he continued. The BMV is within its authority to depend on the SSA to maintain verifiable names since the General Assembly requires a name and Social Security number to receive a license.

The justices also ruled the plaintiffs’ due process rights weren’t violated. The letters they received from the BMV regarding the name discrepancies told them there was a name change, that the situation needed to be rectified, what documents were needed to fix the problem, and barring that, licenses would be revoked. They also agreed that Indiana has legitimate interests in both the integrity of its records and in protecting its citizens against fraud and identity theft.

“We cannot say that the Bureau’s requirement that Appellants, at most, petition for a name change, take the court order to Social Security for a change in its records, and provide the Bureau documentation of Social Security’s change constitutes a burden so unreasonable as to be unconstitutional. The arrangement does rationally advance the legitimate state interest of preventing identity theft. Whether it might if harshly administered run afoul of due process is a question for another day,” wrote the chief justice.


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