Indiana judge weighs fate of BMV overcharges case

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A judge is weighing the fate of a lawsuit targeting the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles after he heard arguments Monday in the case alleging that the BMV overcharged motorists by tens of millions of dollars for fees and services.

Monday's hearing came a week after an independent audit concluded, in part, that the BMV may have overcharged motorists more than the $60 million it has previously disclosed.

Carl Hayes, a private attorney for the BMV, asked Marion Superior Court Judge John Hanley to approve the agency's motion for summary judgment and dismiss the suit. He argued, among other points, that the woman named as having lodged the suit didn't file a required tort claim notice before filing the complaint in December 2013.

Hayes, who called the case a "costly, legally flawed lawsuit," also told Hanley that while Tammy Raab had paid some BMV fees, the Indianapolis woman lacks standing to sue for repayment of dozens of other agency fees because she has never paid those.

"Basically all of the BMV's fees are included in the lawsuit at this point," he told the judge.

Hayes also said Raab lacks the private right to ask a judge to enforce the BMV's "rate-defining statutes."

Attorney Irwin Levin, who filed the suit, argued that because the complaint seeks to force the BMV to return millions of dollars that resulted in its "unjust enrichment" by overcharging for vehicle registrations and other services, it's not a tort claim at all and therefore no tort claim notice was needed.

Levin also said in arguing for allowing the suit to proceed to trial that the BMV is trying to end the case by contending that citizens such as Raab cannot seek reimbursement of fees for which they were overcharged.

"If the BMV's theory was law, no citizen would ever be able to get their money back from the BMV," he said.

Hayes responded later that that's not the case and refund forms are available in BMV license branches.

The lawsuit does not specify how much it seeks to have repaid to motorists, but Levin's law firm, Cohen & Malad, has previously described that amount as being in the tens of millions of dollars.

Monday's hearing came a week after an independent audit concluded that the BMV lacks oversight, uses a complex fee schedule and may have overcharged motorists more than the $60 million since 2013 that it has previously disclosed.

In September, the BMV admitted that it has overcharged state residents $29 million in refunds. A year earlier it settled a class-action lawsuit that accused the BMV of overcharging customers $30 million. Cohen & Malad reaped $6.3 million from that lawsuit.

The audit also found 10 additional undercharges to motorists. BMV spokesman Josh Gillespie said last week the BMV will not attempt to recover those undercharges.

Kent Abernathy, who took over as BMV commissioner in February, said internal improvements already have begun, including the hiring of a chief of staff and the formation of a central internal audit team. Also, on Monday, it announced the hiring of a new general counsel and chief information officer.

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