Appeals court: Specialized driving privileges may not exceed 2½ years

Indiana trial courts may not grant specialized driving privileges to motorists whose licenses have been suspended without also limiting those privileges to no more than two-and-a-half years, an appellate panel ruled Thursday.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a Marion Circuit Court order that granted specialized driving privileges “until further court order” for Dezie McClung, who was subject to two lifetime license suspensions for driving as a habitual traffic offender, as well as an active 10-year ban. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles appealed the trial court’s order granting him specialized driving privileges with no specified date of termination after the Indianapolis court denied the BMV’s motion to correct error.

The appellate panel agreed with the BMV that Indiana Code § 9-30-16, et seq., places a two-and-a-half-year limit on the duration of any court-issued specialized driving privileges. The COA thus reversed in Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office v. Dezie McClung, 19A-MI-719, and remanded for further proceedings, finding the trial court ruling that indefinitely granted the privileges was contrary to law.

“(T)he trial court concluded that the legislature did not intend for the durational limit in Section 3 to apply to administrative suspensions like McClung’s, which are governed by Section 4. We disagree,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the panel. “Section 4 clearly and unambiguously incorporates Section 3(c), the effect being that all grants of specialized driving privileges, including McClung’s, are subject to the two-and-one-half-year durational limit. We do, however, agree with the trial court that the effect of Section 4’s incorporation of Section 3(b) is ambiguous and is thus subject to judicial construction.”

In seeking to harmonize the sections to clarify ambiguity, the panel said it sympathized with the trial court because the sections that deal separately with court-ordered and administrative license suspensions are confusing. But the COA also faulted the trial court for failing to grant deference to the statutory interpretation offered by the bureau.

“Because we presume that the legislature intended the statutory language to be applied logically, and because we find the BMV’s interpretation logical and reasonable, we cannot agree with the trial court’s reading of this statute,” the panel held.

“McClung — and, we presume, many other Hoosier drivers — is subject to three administrative suspensions of his driving privileges, two of which have no expiration date and will — absent a grant of specialized driving privileges or their subsequent revocation — prevent him from driving for the rest of his life. This is a drastic consequence imposed on Indiana drivers, primarily by the BMV but also by trial courts, when they fail to adhere to Indiana’s laws governing motor vehicles and licensing,” Mathias wrote.

“If we were to accept the trial court’s interpretation of the legislature’s intent as allowing specialized driving privileges from administrative suspensions to be granted for unlimited durations, we would be permitting the functional reversal of valid, lifetime suspensions that have been deemed necessary by the BMV, the administrative agency charged with enforcing the statute,” Mathias continued. “… The BMV has provided an interpretation of the statute at issue here that is consistent with the statute’s public safety rationale. Its interpretation of the ambiguous provisions is, therefore, a reasonable one to which we must defer because the BMV is the administrative agency responsible for the enforcement of the statutory scheme.

“…  Trial courts may not grant petitions for specialized driving privileges without also imposing a durational limit that complies with the statutory scheme,” the panel concluded.

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