Broward Clerk of Court Howard C. Forman can report scofflaw traffic violators to the state for license suspensions without notifying them to appear before an official, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday.
A class action brought against Forman was rejected by Broward Circuit Judge John Murphy III, and his decision was upheld on appeal.
Forman was following an administrative order issued by the chief judge and by extension enjoys absolute immunity, Fourth District Judge Dorian Damoorgian wrote in Claudia J. Fong v. Howard C. Forman.
Fong and another woman received noncriminal traffic citations but ignored them. They did not exercise any of the three options for resolving tickets that were offered on a “Ticket Bill of Rights” brochure created by the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and distributed by the clerk. Motorists can pay the fine, take a defensive driving course or request a hearing.
Forman’s office reported them to the department of motor vehicles, and their driver licenses were suspended.
The lawsuit alleged the clerk of court was obligated to cite them to appear before an official before reporting them for suspensions. It argued for a change in policy and asked for a refund of fees paid to restore their licenses.
Susan Delegal of Billing, Cochran, Lyles, Mauro & Ramsey in West Palm Beach represented Forman. She said this was the third appellate court to uphold the practice. Similar lawsuits were brought in Miami-Dade and Duval counties.
“We’re very pleased,” Delegal said of the result. “Now we have uniformity among the DCAs. I don’t know what their grounds would be for an appeal. We don’t have a conflict among the DCAs.”
Damoorgian said the motorists should have challenged the chief judge’s administrative order but “instead tried to wage a collateral attack against the clerk for doing as he was required.”
“The question presented is not whether the policies set forth in the administrative order are valid but whether judicial immunity bars any suit,” Damoorgian said.
He cited Fuller v. Truncale, an identical 2011 case from the First District Court of Appeal in which judicial immunity of a clerk of court was upheld.
“Although plaintiffs attack the logic of Fuller, courts from other jurisdictions have reached the same conclusion,” he wrote. He noted a 1992 federal case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit challenged the actions of a clerk, and the court concluded the actions were covered by judicial discretion and amounted to “nonmechanical functions integral to the judicial process.”
Chief Judge Melanie May and Judge Jonathan Gerber concurred with Damoorgian.
George Mahfood of Broad and Cassel in Miami, who represented the plaintiffs, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.