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Public Citizen Wins Lawsuit Against Justice Department Over Implementation of Long-Delayed Vehicle Database
Court-Imposed Deadline for National Auto Database Will Save Lives, Keep Unsafe Vehicles Off the Road
Under our constitution, Congress makes the laws and the Executive Branch is expected to take care that they are faithfully executed. But what happens when a government agency doesn't do its job? Over the years, Public Citizen has sued the government many times asking courts to compel do-nothing federal agencies to take action when people's health, safety, and important consumer rights are at stake.
This month, Public Citizen won an important victory against the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), requiring the government to implement a long-delayed database that will let consumers instantly check the validity of a car's title and mileage and determine whether the vehicle has been junked, salvaged, or rebuilt after a wreck. The database will prevent and deter auto fraud and steer consumers clear of unsafe vehicles.
Public Citizen, along with the California-based organizations Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety and Consumer Action, sued the DOJ in February. We argued that the government had violated a statutory deadline for implementing the database by more than a decade and that its illegal delay was harming consumers. The DOJ countered by challenging our standing to sue, arguing the statute of limitations had run, and urging the court to do nothing because the government was planning to implement the system --eventually.
Rejecting the government's arguments, U.S. Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the government has until January 30, 2009 to make this information available to consumers. The government must also issue regulations requiring states, insurance companies, and junk yards to send additional information to the database by the end of March 2009. The court retained jurisdiction and required progress reports from the government's lawyers.
The court's order is the final chapter in a sixteen-year history of delay. When Congress passed a law in 1992 requiring a national database to deter auto fraud and prevent injury and death from unsafe vehicles, no one expected that it would take well over a decade until it became reality. The 1992 law required the government to establish and implement the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), a single database that would provide public access to vehicle-history information gathered from a variety of public and private sources.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York, who sponsored the legislation when he was a member of the House of Representatives, said the database was "a common sense measure to fight auto theft and to protect the public from fraud. I am encouraged by Public Citizen's efforts on this case and I hope that this important law will finally be enforced as it should have been from day one."
Read More about Public Citizen Litigation Group
Founded in 1972 as the litigating arm of the non-profit consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, Public Citizen Litigation Group is a national public interest law firm specializing in consumer rights, health and safety regulation, open government, separation of powers, and the First Amendment. We have litigated cases in every federal circuit and state courts across the country, and in December 2007, we argued our 52nd case in the U.S. Supreme Court.