COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The state’s agency over driver’s licenses made millions charging people money to do nothing, according to an Ohio court record tied to two attorneys’ offices wanting reimbursement.
The class action lawsuit in the state’s Tenth District Court of Appeals, Kellie Madyda, et al. v. Ohio Department of Public Safety, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, claimed the agency violated the state’s constitution with unjust enrichment. Before July 2018, anyone who wanted a driver’s license, permit or ID could go to a BMV office where a worker there would create, print, laminate and immediately give them to the customer. To make up for the cost of doing this, the BMV had workers charge a $1.50 lamination fee.
However, the BMV outsourced this work starting July 2 of that year, and its registrars stopped making the cards on-site. Instead, it hired a third-party company that handled the card creation process for new and renewed licenses and permits, and mailed them to Ohioans after visiting the BMV. This is where the lawsuit flagged an issue.
“Despite the fact that the procedures changed as of July 2, 2018, the legislation authorizing the collection of the lamination fee did not change until July 3, 2019 and deputy registrars continued to collect the $1.50 lamination fee per Ohio Credential issues even though they were no longer performing the services for which the lamination fee was meant to compensate them.”Kellie Madyda, et al. v. Ohio Department of Public Safety, Bureau of Motor Vehicles
According to the lawsuit, the BMV charged 3,423,315 Ohioans lamination fees in that lapsing period. At $1.50 per person, that means that people paid an extra $5,134,972.50 altogether to the Ohio BMV.
“If a mistake is made, they should make it right, and this is exactly that kind of a situation,” said Marc Dann, a former Ohio attorney general whose private law office is one of the class action’s suitors.
The court has not yet ruled in either party’s favor. However, the Ohio BMV denied the allegations in the lawsuit, according to emails sent by the agency to NBC4 viewers. Those letters also notified Ohioans that they may be members of the class action lawsuit, and explained their option to opt out. But the only two things that will do are exclude them from the results and potential payout of the suit, and allow them to hire their own lawyer for their own lawsuit against the BMV.
“It’s really very few people [that] are opting out, because nobody wants to bring an individual lawsuit over $1.50,” Dann said.
The former attorney general told NBC4 he expects the case should move quickly once it goes to trial, despite the BMV denying the allegations.
“The trial should be simple, because we don’t disagree about any of the facts, we just disagree about how to handle it,” Dann said. “My expectation is when we get a judgment on this, there won’t be a claimant process.”
Still, the road to get there wasn’t as straightforward when he and co-counsel Zimmerman Law Offices filed. The BMV appealed the certification that this was a class action suit, and Dann said this sent it from an Ohio court of claims to the appellate court to the Ohio Supreme Court. Dann and his co-counsel plan to request the state pay back legal fees, because their expenses ballooned to around half a million dollars in the ensuing process.
“When we filed initially … we had less than $50,000 in fees,” Dann said.
Because of the way the class action lawsuit is set up, anyone who wants to participate in it and potentially get their money back just has to do nothing. However, there is a website set up for anyone who wants to file to opt out.
Dann said his office proposed that instead of giving a $1.50 payout, the BMV should instead give Ohio residents credit towards their next Ohio BMV visit or license renewal. But the agency rejected that proposal from the attorneys. The court will determine how to handle the money if it rules in Dann and Zimmerman’s favor.
That $1.50 fee at the BMV also isn’t going anywhere, according to Dann. He referenced House Bill 62 from the Ohio 133rd General Assembly, which was the state’s final budget for transportation.
“In the next budget, they just changed the name of the $1.50 fee,” Dann said. “It’s no longer in lamination, they just raised the cost to get your license renewed.”
Indeed, analysis from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission confirmed that the new budget removed all references to laminating licenses and IDs. Instead, the BMV will charge Ohioans a $1.50 “document authentication fee.”