Tammy E. Greenfield
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Appellant
Submitted: March 28, 2013
BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge.
PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Motor Vehicles (Bureau) appeals from the September 19, 2012 order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County (trial court) sustaining the statutory appeal filed by Tammy E. Greenfield (Greenfield) from a three-month suspension of her vehicle registration imposed by the Bureau pursuant to section 1786(d) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa.C.S. §1786(d).
Victoria Fire and Casualty Company cancelled a policy of liability insurance for Greenfield's 2009 Kia station wagon on May 14, 2012, due to non-payment of the premium, and reported the termination of coverage to the Bureau. In a letter dated May 26, 2012, the Bureau informed Greenfield that it had received notice of the cancellation and requested updated information regarding the status of her insurance. (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 19a.) Thereafter, by notice mailed July 12, 2012, the Bureau advised Greenfield that, as a consequence of her failure to maintain financial responsibility, the registration of her vehicle was being suspended for a period of three months, effective August 16, 2012, pursuant to section 1786(d) of the Vehicle Code. (R.R. at 15a.)
Greenfield filed a statutory appeal with the trial court, which held a de novo hearing on September 19, 2012. The Bureau presented certified documents reflecting that the insurance on Greenfield's vehicle had been cancelled on May 14, 2012. Greenfield admitted that her insurance had been terminated on that date. Greenfield testified that she had given money to her husband to pay the insurance premiums. She said that she did not learn that her husband had not made payment until after he went to jail on June 25th and she received the Bureau's letter informing her that her registration would be suspended. Greenfield stated that she immediately obtained insurance, and she submitted evidence of an automobile insurance policy effective July 3, 2012. Finally, responding to the trial court's questions, Greenfield stated that she lived at 1172 Cole Road, Montrose, Pennsylvania, with her parents, and she clarified that the co-owner of her vehicle was her father, not her spouse.
Following the brief hearing, the trial court reversed the registration suspension, noting that Greenfield "presented documentary evidence of the reinstatement of financial responsibility insurance on the vehicle at issue within 30 days of the date she received notice of the cancellation …." (R.R. at 12a, 23a.)
On appeal to this Court,  the Bureau argues that the trial court erred in sustaining Greenfield's appeal on that basis. We agree.
Section 1786(a) of the Vehicle Code provides that "every motor vehicle of the type required to be registered under this title which is operated or currently registered shall be covered by financial responsibility." 75 Pa.C.S. §1786(a). Section 1786(d) of the Code further provides:
(1) The Department of Transportation shall suspend the registration of a vehicle for a period of three months if it determines the required financial responsibility was not secured as required by this chapter and shall suspend the operating privilege of the owner or registrant for a period of three months if the department determines that the owner or registrant has operated or permitted the operation of the vehicle without the required financial responsibility.…
75 Pa.C.S. §1786(d)(1) (emphasis added). Accordingly, in any case of a lapse in financial responsibility in violation of this provision, a three-month registration suspension is mandatory. Pray v. Department of Motor Vehicles, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 708 A.2d 1315 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1998). This subsection does not apply when the owner or registrant proves that "the lapse of financial responsibility coverage was for a period of less than 31 days and that the owner or registrant did not operate or permit the operation of the vehicle during the period of lapse . . . ." Section 1786(d)(2)(i) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa.C.S. §1786(d)(2)(i) (emphasis added).However, if the duration of the lapse in financial responsibility is not less than 31 days, a registration suspension "must be imposed even when financial responsibility has been secured either prior to the expiration or the imposition of the suspension." Pray, 708 A.2d at 1317.
In this case, Greenfield conceded that the lapse in insurance coverage extended from May 14, 2012 to July 3, 2012, a period of more than 31 days, and the record reflects that no exception to the mandatory three-month registration suspension applies. In sustaining Greenfield's appeal, the trial court cited evidence that Greenfield secured insurance coverage within 30 days of the date she received notice of the cancellation. In doing so, the trial court disregarded our holding in Pray.
Presumably, the trial court determined that Greenfield was without fault and/or would suffer some hardship from the suspension of her vehicle registration and ruled accordingly. However, we have repeatedly held that the statutory scheme is clear and does not allow the trial court to resort to an equitable remedy. Banks v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, 856 A.2d 294 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004).
In Banks, appellant Bobbie Banks appealed the three-month suspension of her vehicle registration imposed by the Bureau under section 1786 of the Vehicle Code. During the de novo hearing, Banks acknowledged that the liability insurance covering her vehicle had been cancelled when she failed to pay the policy premium and that her vehicle was uninsured from May 30, 2003, to August 7, 2003. Although the lapse of coverage was longer than 31 days, the trial court sustained Banks' appeal noting that Banks did not drive her car while it was uninsured and that the registration suspension would cause her hardship. On further appeal, this Court reversed. First, citing Pray, we emphasized that the exception set forth in section 1786(d)(2)(i) is not applicable where the lapse in financial ...