Appeal from Common Pleas Court, Schuylkill County; Honorable Joseph F. McCloskey, Judge.
John T. Clary, Jr., Asst. Counsel, John V. Rovinsky, Lawrence R. Wieder, John L. Heaton, Chief Counsel, Scranton, for appellant.
Frank R. Cori, Orwigsburg, for appellee.
Doyle and McGinley, JJ., and Barbieri, Senior Judge.
[ 130 Pa. Commw. Page 213]
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation (DOT), appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County which sustained an
[ 130 Pa. Commw. Page 214]
appeal by John M. Grutza (Grutza) from a DOT order suspending his miscellaneous vehicle business registration plates*fn1 for a period of one month. The question presented here for review is whether the trial court erred in excusing Grutza for misusing or permitting the misuse of his business registration plate by an employee who was acting within the scope of his employment.
Grutza operates an Exxon station in Mahanoy City. Glenn Zehner has been employed by Grutza at the station for five or six years and does "a little bit of everything."*fn2 On November 7, 1986, Mr. Zehner was delivering fuel oil for Grutza when the truck in which he was driving lost its brakes and collided with two other vehicles. Officer Motto was called to the scene to investigate the accident. While investigating the traffic accident, Officer Motto found the license plate of the truck Zehner was operating on the ground at the rear of the overturned truck. The plate was attached to a T frame which matched the rest of the frame still attached to the overturned truck. Officer Motto picked up the license plate, recorded its numbers for his accident report,*fn3 and placed the plate in the cab of the truck. No registration card could be produced at the accident scene because the cab of Grutza's truck was covered with fuel oil. The following day, however, Mr. Zehner brought the registration card to the police station so that a copy of it could be made and put with the accident report. The plate number on the registration card read RS06193.
By Official Notice dated and mailed May 5, 1987, DOT notified Grutza that the use of his business registration
[ 130 Pa. Commw. Page 215]
plates were being suspended because he had violated Section 1374(a)(2) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa.C.S. § 1374(a)(2), which prohibits owners of miscellaneous motor vehicle business registration plates from making or permitting to be made any unlawful use of their registration plate. Grutza then filed a timely appeal and a hearing de novo was held in the Court of Common Pleas.
At the hearing de novo, Grutza testified that he thought the license plate on his fuel oil truck was still that of the previous owner because he had just purchased the truck five or six days prior to the accident and was using the previous owner's license plate until his title arrived. Grutza stated that it was not until after the accident that he learned the previous owner of the truck had asked for his license plate back and Mr. Zehner had mailed it to him the day before the accident. Grutza ...