OF THE CASE
This matter is an appeal by Chadwick Dale Martin (“Martin” or
“Appellant”) from a Final Order and Decision of the South Carolina Division of
Motor Vehicle Hearings (“DMVH”). Martin claims that the DMVH erroneously dismissed
his case and requests a hearing on the merits. The Administrative Law Court
(“ALC”) has jurisdiction to hear this matter pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. §
1-23-660 (Supp. 2006). Upon consideration of the briefs, the DMVH’s Final
Order and Decision is affirmed.
requested a contested case hearing to dispute the suspension of his driver’s
license or driving privileges. A hearing regarding the present matter at hand
was scheduled to take place at 10:00 a.m. on November 16, 2007, at the offices
of the DMVH. At 9:55 a.m. on November 16, 2007, the office of the Appellant’s
counsel, Thomas Quinn, Esquire, requested a continuance stating that Mr. Quinn
had been detained in Greenville Family Court for a hearing. Instructions were
given for his office to send documentation by facsimile before 10:15 a.m. that
Mr. Quinn was indeed in Family Court.
letter from Mr. Quinn’s office, accompanied by a letter from an attorney
associated with the Family Court hearing, was faxed and received by the offices
of the DMVH at approximately 10:25 a.m., 10 minutes after the expiration of the
deadline imposed by the DMVH. Although tardy, the letter indicated that Mr.
Quinn was scheduled to be in Family Court that day, and that he was in fact
under the mistaken belief that the Family Court hearing would be resolved in
time for him to attend the other hearing(s). However, the letter also indicated
that Mr. Quinn was on notice that the Family Court hearing was scheduled for
November 16 and November 17. Based upon this, and based on the fact
that the requested documentation arrived 10 minutes after the deadline, Hearing
Officer Holland dismissed the matter pursuant to Rule 601(C) SCACR and Rule 23
of the Rules of Procedure of the Administrative Law Court. Martin now appeals.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
DMVH is authorized by law to determine contested cases arising from the
Department. See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-660 (Supp. 2006). Therefore, the
DMVH is an “agency” under the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”). See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-310(2) (2005). As such, the APA’s standard of review
governs appeals from decisions of the DMVH. See S.C. Code Ann. §
1-23-380 (Supp. 2006); see also Byerly Hosp. v. S.C. State Health & Human Servs. Fin. Comm’n, 319 S.C. 225, 229, 460 S.E.2d 383, 385
(1995). The standard used by appellate bodies, including the ALC, to review
agency decisions is provided by S.C. Code Ann. §1-23-380(A)(5) (Supp. 2006).
This section provides:
The court may not
substitute its judgment for the judgment of the agency as to the weight of the
evidence on questions of fact. The court may affirm the decision of the agency
or remand the case for further proceedings. The court may reverse or modify
the decision [of the agency] if substantial rights of the appellant have been
prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions, or
violation of constitutional or statutory provisions;
excess of the statutory authority of the agency;
upon unlawful procedure;
by other error of law;
erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the
whole record; or
(f) arbitrary or capricious or
characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of
S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(5) (Supp. 2006) (emphasis added).
not raised in his brief, Martin tacitly proposes a Motion to Reopen by virtue
of his appeal in this matter. Rule 29(D) of the Rules of Procedure for the Administrative Law Court addresses Motions for Reconsideration. Specifically, the section
entitled “Note to 1997 Amendments” provides, in pertinent part:
Rule 29(C) [now
29(D)] has been amended to incorporate SCRCP Rule 60[b], which sets forth the
following grounds for relief from a final judgment:
(1) Mistake, inadvertence,
surprise, or excusable neglect…
ALC Rule 29
Inc. v. South Carolina Department of Revenue, the Court of Appeals held
that a party was entitled to relief from a final order of dismissal because its
failure to appear was based upon a good faith belief that the hearing was
scheduled for another date. Mictronics, Inc. v. South Carolina Department of
Revenue, 345 S.C. 506, 548 S.E. 2d 223 (Ct. App. 2001). In considering
whether to grant the motion under Rule 60(b) SCRCP, the Court forwarded the
following four part test: “(1) the promptness with which relief is sought, (2)
the reasons for the failure to act promptly, (3) the existence of a meritorious
and (4) the prejudice to the other party.” Id at 226.
counsel for the Appellant contends that his inability to attend the hearing was
based upon a good faith mistaken belief that his obligation in Family Court
would only last 15 minutes. (R. at 8-9). Although there is evidence to the
this Court finds that Mr. Quinn’s request for a continuance, coupled with his
timely application for relief,
indicates that his error was made in good faith.
is more troubling is the fact that the Record is devoid of any sort of a
defense, meritorious or otherwise. In Mictronics, the Court noted that
the party seeking relief raised enough issues within its prehearing statement
to “meet the standards for a meritorious defense.” Id. Conversely, in
the matter at hand, the Record and associated briefs focus solely on the issue
before me, to wit, whether the dismissal of this case qualifies as an abuse of
discretion, and contain very little on the underlying issue on appeal, to wit,
the suspension of Martin’s drivers license.
this Court is aware of South Carolina’s policy favoring the disposition of
issues on their merits rather than on technicalities,
it must also recognize that it cannot unilaterally remedy deficiencies in a
parties’ case. Here, counsel has simply failed to provide enough information
for this Court to make a tenable judgment on whether a meritorious defense
it is well-settled in this State that a trial court’s denial of a motion for
continuance “will not be disturbed absent a clear abuse of discretion.” State
v. McKennedy, 348 S.C. 270, 280, 559 S.E.2d 850, 855 (2002) (quoting State
v. Williams, 321 S.C. 455, 459, 469 S.E.2d 49, 51 (1996)). Orders
reversing a denial of a continuance request “are about as rare as the
proverbial hens’ teeth.” State v. McMillian, 349 S.C. 17, 21, 561
S.E.2d 602, 604 (2002).
I find no abuse of discretion here. Based on the scant amount of notice given,
it was reasonable for the DMVH hearing officer to expect a prompt response from
Appellant’s counsel. Moreover, the absence of a meritorious defense within the
Record and associated briefs precludes this Court from granting relief under
the standards set forth in Mictronics, supra.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the DMVH’s Final Order
and Decision is AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
November 5, 2007 John D. McLeod
Columbia, SC Administrative