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REESE v. KASSAB

October 26, 1971

John REESE, Plaintiff,
v.
Jacob G. KASSAB, Secretary of the Department of Transportation of Pennsylvania and Julius A. Trombetta, Director of the Bureau of Traffic Safety of Pennsylvania, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEIS

The Pennsylvania "Point System" is under attack in this case, the plaintiff contending that the procedure providing for suspension of a driver's license without an administrative hearing violates the due process requirements delineated by the United States Supreme Court in the recent case of Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535, 91 S. Ct. 1586, 29 L. Ed. 2d 90 (1971).

The statute enacted by the Pennsylvania legislature *fn1" provides a system of assessing "points" by the Secretary of the Department of Transportation upon receipt of notification of convictions of certain specified violations of the Motor Vehicle Code. Notice is given to the driver of the imposition of the points on each occasion and when a total of 11 points is accumulated, the Secretary is directed to suspend the operator's license for a period of 60 days. There are other provisions of the Act providing for point credits for attending driver improvement school, and also for each year of a conviction-free driving record.

 No administrative hearing is provided either upon each assessment of points or before suspension, but after the penalty has been imposed an appeal may be taken to the Court of Common Pleas, in the county wherein the licensee resides. *fn2"

 The Stipulation of Facts shows that the plaintiff John Reese is a truck driver whose livelihood depends upon his ability to operate a motor vehicle. His record with the Department of Transportation reveals the following:

 
1. An arrest on September 26, 1967 for speeding; fine and costs were paid without a hearing and 6 points were assigned by the Secretary on October 21, 1967.
 
2. Reese attended driver improvement school in January of 1968 and received a credit of 1 point.
 
3. On June 24, 1968 the plaintiff paid a fine and costs for violating Section 1028(a) of the Motor Vehicle Code dealing with traffic signals. Five more points were assigned.
 
4. No convictions having been entered from June 24, 1968 to June 2, 1969, the plaintiff received a credit of 2 points.
 
5. On July 30, 1969 Reese was charged with speeding, paid the fine and costs without a hearing. On receipt of notification of this proceeding, the Secretary assigned 3 points.

 Since the plaintiff at this point had a total of 11 points, his license was suspended by the Secretary for a period of 60 days. Thereafter, the plaintiff took an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania, contending that he was not guilty of the violations for which points had been assessed and that there was a fatal variance between the information and conviction for violation of Section 1028(a) of the Motor Vehicle Code which was alleged to have occurred on June 24, 1968 (item 3 above).

 The Court of Common Pleas granted the Commonwealth's motion to quash the appeal and on a motion for rehearing, the previous ruling was affirmed, the court relying upon the case of Commonwealth v. Virnelson, 212 Pa. Super. 359, 243 A. 2d 464 (1968) which held that there could be no review of the facts behind the convictions giving rise to the assessment of points and that the only matter which might be shown was improper calculation of the points. Under Pennsylvania law payment of fine and costs is equivalent to a plea of guilty and in the context of this case would be an admission of a conviction. Commonwealth v. Virnelson, supra.

 Reese perfected an appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania which affirmed the action of the Common Pleas Court. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania refused to grant allocatur.

 Alleging that the Point System Act was unconstitutional, the plaintiff then filed this suit for an injunction to prohibit the Secretary from suspending his license. Since the requisite jurisdictional grounds ...


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