Wednesday, April 30, 2008
License Restoration Ordered for Alleged DMV Exam Cheat
Panel Says Refusal to Grant One Type of License No Basis to Revoke Others
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The California Department of Motor Vehicles cannot revoke a woman’s noncommercial driver’s license merely because it caught her cheating on her commercial driver’s license exam, this district’s Court of Appeal held yesterday.
Affirming Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe’s order directing the DMV to set aside its revocation of Yan Ju Wang’s class C noncommercial driver’s license, Div. One held that a provision in the Vehicle Code permitting the agency to revoke a driver’s license for any reason for which it could have refused to issue that license in the first place does not allow the department to revoke all other types of driver’s licenses as well.
The DMV revoked Wang’s class C license after it allegedly discovered her cheating on the written examination to qualify for a class B commercial driver’s license by using crib notes.
Determining that there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges against Wang under Vehicle Code Sec. 14610.5—which punishes such conduct as an infraction or a misdemeanor—the department opted for revocation instead.
After exhausting her administrative remedies, Wang filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate to compel the DMV to set aside the revocation and Yaffe granted her petition, reasoning that “[t]he issue before the court is whether, as a matter of law, the DMV can revoke [Wang’s] Class C license because it caught her cheating in an examination for a Class B license.”
Yaffe concluded that the department lacked authority to do so under the Vehicle Code, but the DMV appealed, contending that Sec. 13359—which gives the department authority to “suspend or revoke the privilege of any person to operate a motor vehicle upon any of the grounds which authorize the refusal to issue a license”—and Sec. 12809(d)—which provides that the DMV may refuse to issue a license to any person who has “committed any fraud in any application”—supported its action.
Reasoning that an examination is part of an application, and that the use of a crib sheet in taking an examination is a fraudulent act, the department argued that Wang had committed a fraud in an application, thereby authorizing the DMV both to refuse to issue her a class B license and to revoke her class C license.
However, in an opinion by Justice Frances Rothschild, the Court of Appeal disagreed, concluding that “the DMV’s interpretation cannot be correct, because it would lead to untenable results.”
Observing that the DMV, under its construction of the Vehicle Code, could revoke a class C license “if the holder…applied for a class B license, took the exam without cheating or committing any other impropriety, and failed,” Rothschild concluded that “the DMV’s interpretation of the statute would authorize revocation of a class C license held by any unsuccessful applicant for a class B license.”
Rothschild also noted that the statutory requirements for a class B license are more demanding than the statutory requirements for a class C license, meaning that statutory ineligibility for a class B license had no tendency, in itself, to show lack of statutory entitlement to a class C license.
“Because the DMV’s interpretation of section 13359 turns every unsuccessful application for a class B license into an authorization to revoke the applicant’s class C license, it effectively negates the lower statutory threshold for entitlement to a class C license,” she wrote. “For these reasons, we must reject the DMV’s interpretation.”
Justice Miriam A. Vogel and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frank Jackson, sitting by designation, joined Rothschild in her opinion.
The case is Wang v. Valverde, 08 S.O.S. 2501.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company