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BMV overcharging case moves to mediation

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) A two-year-old class-action lawsuit alleging Indiana’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles systematically overcharged Hoosier drivers on a wide variety of fees since 2002 may be moving toward a settlement.

Court records obtained by I-Team 8 show a joint notice of mediation was filed in the case Wednesday.

Attorneys for plaintiffs in the case, which include all Hoosier drivers who did not specifically opt out, are seeking unspecified damages plus interest for all fees they allege were overcharged by the BMV. That includes everything from vehicle registrations to motorcycle endorsements, personalized license plate fees and chauffeurs licenses. They previously estimated total overcharges to be between $30 million and $40 million.

The two sides have been mired in legal battles in court since the case began following a series of I-Team 8 investigations in 2012, including one that identified new questions over whether a number of fees were being charged at rates higher than allowed by state law. The investigations followed an admission from the agency earlier that year that it had been overcharging many drivers for operators licenses since 2007. Those drivers were issued small refunds as part of a separate $30 million settlement.

Since then, outside audits have identified additional overcharges at the agency on everything from excise taxes to reinstatement fees paid by drivers accused of driving without insurance who later proved they did have insurance coverage at the time.

In the wake of those announcements, and appointment of Kent Abernathy as the new commissioner of the BMV, the two sides have agreed to try mediation outside of court.

“It is voluntary, as opposed to court ordered,” said Carl Hayes of Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP, who is representing the BMV in the case. “The BMV is interested in solutions that are good for Indiana taxpayers, and mediation will help determine whether one is available.”

The case will continue to move forward in court as the two sides negotiate a potential settlement, he added.

“Other than the short time dedicated to the mediation, it really does not bear on the case going forward unless some resolution is reached,” Hayes said.

Messages left for plaintiff’s attorneys at Cohen & Malad LLP were not immediately returned.

The latest overcharges were identified by independent auditing firm BKD Consulting, which was hired by the BMV in September to audit the agency’s financial structure, including the computer system responsible for the $29 million in excise tax overcharges announced in September 2014. The BKD audit was scheduled to be completed in October 2015, but will now be complete by May 1, Gov. Mike Pence announced in February. The results of the full audit will be made public, he said.