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Monday, September 30, 2013

Ind. Gov't. - "Indiana BMV admits it overcharged on more fees, will issue credits"

Updating this ILB entry from July 13th, headed "Suit claims BMV Indiana overcharged millions of Hoosiers for driver's licenses", Jon Murray reported in the Indianapolis Star this weekend:

Over the summer, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles sheepishly admitted that for years it had been charging millions of Hoosiers $3.50 too much for driver’s licenses.

Turns out, that overcharge was just the tip of the iceberg.

On Friday afternoon, the BMV quietly announced through a news release that it has identified many other fees that were set higher than allowed by state law. So it is lowering those fees and issuing credits that can be claimed the next time customers do business with the agency.

Customers also were undercharged for some services, but the state said it would not attempt to recoup that money.

The BMV overcharged customers 70 cents for new passenger vehicle and motorcycle registrations, $3 for personalized plates and $3 for six-year motorcycle endorsements on their licenses.

That’s not all. In many cases, new registrations for trucks, trailers, semitrailer trucks, tractors and buses were supposed to be $1 less than what was charged. BMV Commissioner R. Scott Waddell blamed the errors on misapplying complex state laws governing more than 300 fees for various BMV services. He said Gov. Mike Pence ordered all fees to be reviewed after the overcharges on driver’s licenses were pointed out in a lawsuit.

The BMV’s statement didn’t detail how many fees it had overcharged, or for how long.

The Indianapolis Star compared old and new fee charts to pinpoint dozens of fees that had been overcharged in 15 of 22 current categories. Some categories include arrays of fees based on gross weight, registration date and registration type, and often those had a mix of correct and incorrect fees.

Most overcharges were by $1 to $3, The Star found.

A BMV spokesman said the corrections on customers’ accounts would reflect overcharges going back six years, the statute of limitations. * * *

Indianapolis law firm Barnes and Thornburg conducted the review of all fees following the BMV’s acknowledgment of the driver’s license overcharges.

“That review showed just how complex the statutes that govern fees are, and we found several errors that have led to both undercharges and overcharges on a number of fees,” Waddell said in the news release. “The BMV has taken immediate steps to address any overcharges by crediting affected motorists’ accounts and has corrected all overcharged fees going forward.”

Gillespie declined The Star’s request for a copy of Barnes and Thornburg’s fee study, saying it was protected by attorney-client privilege.

[ILB thoughts] Really, the BMV had to hire B&T to explain its laws to its staff? What about the Office of the Attorney General, or its own internal counsel? And now the memo explaining the BMV law is "confidential"?

The BMV has a long history of misinterpreting/misapplying its laws. Recall recent stories re specialty plates, habitual traffic offender issues, proof-of-insurance issues, etc.

And what of the class action lawsuit that initiated the current fee review. The Star story says:

The credit policy means customers will recoup the extra charges the next time they renew or do other business with the BMV. But old customers who no longer live in Indiana likely are out of luck.

That same approach drew criticism in July when the BMV said it would issue credits for the overcharged driver’s license fees rather than cutting checks to customers. At that time, the agency then was enmeshed in a class-action lawsuit over standard operator’s license fees.

Irwin Levin, the attorney behind that suit, said at the time that he was concerned some previous customers, including out-of-state college students, wouldn’t get repaid.

He also pointed out that the BMV wasn’t paying anyone interest.

“If the BMV wants to give people gifts,” Levin said, “they can do that, but it doesn’t affect the claims. ... Now the people who have cheated us at least since 2007 are saying, ‘Trust us.’ ”

Efforts to reach Levin on Friday were unsuccessful.

A review of the case docket in the suit, Tammy Raab vs. R Scott Waddell, et. al.(49D12-1303-PL-008769) includes an 8/21/2013 item: "PRELIMINARY APPROVAL TO CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT WITH R. SCOTT WADDELL AND INDIANA BUREAU OF MOTOR VEHICLES". Nov. 12, 2013 is scheduled for "Final Approval of Settlement Agreement."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 30, 2013 08:17 AM
Posted to Indiana Government