Tuesday, July 22, 2014

SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
Chadwick Dale Martin vs. SCDMV

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles

PARTIES:
Appellant:
Chadwick Dale Martin

Respondent:
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
07-ALJ-21-0015-AP

APPEARANCES:
n/a
 

ORDERS:

ORDER

STATEMENT 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.

BACKGROUND

Appellant 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.

A 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

The 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).[1] 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 decisions are:

(a) in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions;

(b) in excess of the statutory authority of the agency;

(c) made upon unlawful procedure;

(d) affected by other error of law;

(e) clearly 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 discretion.

S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(5) (Supp. 2006) (emphasis added).

DISCUSSION

Although 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 (2007).

In Mictronics, 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 defense[2], and (4) the prejudice to the other party.” Id at 226.

Here, 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 contrary[3], this Court finds that Mr. Quinn’s request for a continuance, coupled with his timely application for relief[4], indicates that his error was made in good faith.

What 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.

While this Court is aware of South Carolina’s policy favoring the disposition of issues on their merits rather than on technicalities[5], 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 exists.

Furthermore, 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).

CONCLUSION

Accordingly, 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.

ORDER

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the DMVH’s Final Order and Decision is AFFIRMED.

AND IT IS SO ORDERED.

______________________________

November 5, 2007 John D. McLeod

Columbia, SC Administrative Law Judge



[1] Pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(B) (Supp. 2006), Administrative Law Judges must conduct appellate review in the same manner prescribed in Section 1-23-380(A).

[2] The Court in Mictronics defined a meritorious defense as one which “…is worthy of a hearing or judicial inquiry because it raises a questions of law deserving of some investigation and discussion or a real controversy as to real facts arising from conflicting or doubtful evidence.” Mictronics, Inc. v. South Carolina Department of Revenue, 345 S.C. 506, 511, 548 S.E. 2d 223, 226 (Ct. App. 2001).

[3] A letter received by Mr. Quinn, dated November 3, 2006, states the following in regard to Mr. Quinn’s DSS hearing: “Please note that this case has been set for a hearing on November 16 and November 17, 2006.” See Record on Appeal, p. 14.

[4] Notice of Appeal was filed on January 3, 2007. See Record on Appeal, p. 8.

[5] See Mictronics 548 S.E. 2d at 226.


~/pdf/070015.pdf
PDF