Bell v. Burson

LOCATION: Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District

DOCKET NO.: 5586
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 402 US 535 (1971)
ARGUED: Mar 23, 1971
DECIDED: May 24, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for Bell v. Burson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 23, 1971 in Bell v. Burson

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in number 5586, Bell against Burson.

Mrs. Rindskopf, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Elizabeth Roediger Rindskopf:

Thank you Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This action arises on a petition for certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the State of Georgia.

Basically, we're taking the constitutionality of the Georgia Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act which appears as Sections 92 (a) - 601 through 615 of the Georgia code annotated.

I'll begin with the description of the facts in this case which I think will serve the dual purpose of making clear the operation of the Act.

Basically, our contention is that the Act violates Due Process of law by operating to suspend the license plates and vehicle certificates, as well as driver's licenses of certain uninsured motorists involved in certain accidents in the State of Georgia.

The facts in this case are as follows, petitioner Bell was driving his own automobile in the small town of Sparks Georgia November 24. 1968, despite the fact that he was driving 10 miles under the speed limit, he was unable to avoid hitting a bicycle ridden by a five year old cyclist who had neglected to yield to a stop sign and entered the path of his incoming vehicle.

The child suffered a broken leg as well as a broken hip and other injuries and the accident was duly investigated by the Chief of Police of Sparks Georgia, who noted that the child had failed to yield to the stop sign and found the petitioner was guilty of no traffic violations and consequently gave him no citation.

Subsequent to the accident, the parents of the child filed an affidavit with the respondent, Department of Public Safety, alleging that the child had sustained damages in excess of $10,000.00 and that these damages had been caused by petitioner Bell.

Now, let me digress here to point out that it was the affidavit filed by the parents that triggered the operation of the Act and once triggered, the Act operates automatically.

So that petitioner thereupon was sent a notice of order of suspension which required him to do one of three things or to face the suspension of his driver's license as well as the certificates of registration for his automobile.

The three things were, A, he must demonstrate that he had proof of liability insurance at the time of the accident, B, that he had entered into a settlement agreement whereby he'd either already paid the damages claimed or he was doing so on installment basis, or C, he had to post bond in the total amount of the damages claimed as well as obtain liability insurance for one year in the future.

Now, these three things are mutually exclusive, and he need not do all but he must do one of the three things to avoid the suspension.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Can I interrupt you with one question?

Elizabeth Roediger Rindskopf:

Yes Mr. Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Does the state concede that Mr. Bell was not negligent, is that conceded?

I know it was --

Elizabeth Roediger Rindskopf:

I think it would be improper and Mrs. Beasley shakes her head if I said they conceded it as will appear in the description of the facts.

The petitioner attempted to question his liability in the administrative proceeding, this was denied him.

He then appealed to the superior court of Cook County and this appeal is part of the procedure of the act.

At that hearing, the judge specifically found that petitioner was without fault.

Hugo L. Black:

But is that res judicata in any subsequent negligence suit?

Elizabeth Roediger Rindskopf:

No it's not.

The act is very specific in stating that any findings in the administrative procedure, anything coming under the operation of the Act not to be used in ancillary damaged action.

Hugo L. Black:

There are no -- do I understand that this Court proceeding, I know it was a Court proceeding and --

Elizabeth Roediger Rindskopf:


Hugo L. Black:

--is still part of the administrative procedure?

Elizabeth Roediger Rindskopf:

No, it's an appeal that they know will appeal from the administrative procedure.

Hugo L. Black:

Well, but it is not enough of a Court proceeding to be res judicata in a negligence suit?