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Ohio Court of Appeals Blocks State Agency’s Vehicle Registration Policy

In 2009, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) instituted a policy of cancelling people’s vehicle registrations if they could not show a social security number, an Ohio driver’s license, or an Ohio identification number.  Nearly 47,000 people had previously been issued registrations by BMV without providing this information, but in October 2009, the BMV sent every one of them a letter stating that they would lose their registrations if they did not now come forth with one of these forms of ID.  The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) filed suit in state court to try to block the BMV from enforcing this policy.  In March 2012, the Ohio Court of Appeals held that the BMV’s policy is unlawful under Ohio state law. 

The relevant Ohio statute lists the information to be provided on any vehicle registration application.  In addition to other data, applications shall contain a social security number, an Ohio driver’s license, or an Ohio identification number.  But this statute also details exactly when the BMV is permitted to deny applications for vehicle registration, and the absence of one of these forms of ID is not specifically mentioned there.  LULAC argued with the BMV about whether the BMV actually had been granted the authority by this statute to refuse or cancel registration when this information is missing from an application.    

The lower court had held that the statute did in fact require applicants to provide one of these three forms of ID and that it authorized the BMV to cancel registrations lacking this data.  The Ohio Court of Appeals disagreed.  Importantly, though, the appeals court did not resolve the question of whether the relevant statute mandates (rather than requests) all applicants to provide one of these three forms of ID.  But it did hold that the BMV’s policy violated the relevant statute for several reasons, including that the statute did not give BMV the authority to cancel previously-issued registrations under these circumstances.