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Public interest in reducing poverty is grounds for application of doctrine of laches

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In overturning a lower court’s ruling, the Indiana Court of Appeals opened the door for the doctrine of laches to be applied to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles by finding the suspension of a Bloomington woman’s driving privileges conflicts with the public’s interest in reducing poverty.

The Indiana Court of Appeals Wednesday reversed the trial court’s denial of a request for a preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings in Leslee Orndorff v. Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehilces, R. Scott Waddell, in his official capacity as commissioner of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, 53A04-1206-PL-299.

From 2002 to 2004, Leslee Orndorff received 17 driving convictions and had her driving privileges suspended 18 times. In 2008, she moved with her two children to Bloomington, obtained a valid driver’s license and got a job as a personal care attendant.

Four years later, the BMV discovered the Orndorff qualified as a habitual traffic violator and sent her a notice that her driving privileges would be suspended for 10 years, effective May 29, 2012.

Orndorff filed a complaint against the BMV alleging that the equitable doctrine of laches prevented the state agency from suspending her driving privileges and requesting a preliminary injunction to stop the suspension. The trial court denied her request for a preliminary injunction, concluding, in part, that it was unlikely that laches would apply to the government.

For Orndorff to assert laches against a government entity, she had an additional requirement to show that the government was not acting in its sovereign capacity to protect the public welfare.

The trial court noted that Orndorff will suffer adverse effects if her driving privileges are suspended and that those adverse effects, namely that she will lose her job and her family will be thrust into poverty, threaten the public interest. However, it ruled that the adverse effect that will be suffered by Orndorff’s family does not appear to constitute the sort of public threat that should prevent the BMV from suspending her driving privileges.

The COA disagreed, finding that the public has a real and tangible interest in reducing poverty and that since 2008, Orndorff has not incurred any driving convictions.

Writing for the court, Judge Terry Crone concluded, “Based on the particular circumstances of this case, we have concluded that suspending Orndorff’s driving privileges presents a threat to the public interest and that no public interest will be served by suspending her driving privileges.”

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