OF THE CASE
This matter is an appeal by Thomas B. Bryant, IV (“Bryant”)
from a Final Order and Decision of the South Carolina Division of Motor Vehicle
Hearings (“DMVH”). The DMVH’s Final Order and Decision was issued following an
administrative hearing held pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2951(B)(2) (Rev. 2006).
Bryant claims that the DMVH erroneously upheld the suspension of his driver’s
license and registration privileges. The Administrative Law Court (“ALC” or
“Court”) has jurisdiction to hear this matter pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. §
1-23-660 (Supp. 2007). Upon consideration of the briefs, the DMVH’s Final
Order and Decision is affirmed.
November 24, 2006, Bryant was involved in a two vehicle collision. Bryant was
operating and is the registered owner of one of the vehicles involved. Bryant
failed to provide proof of insurance, and had not posted a five hundred and
fifty dollars ($550.00) uninsured motorist fee as required by South Carolina
law. Based on this, the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles
(“Department”) subsequently notified Bryant that his driving privileges would
be suspended effective July 5, 2007, unless he provided proof of financial
responsibility and paid the aforementioned fee.
pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2951(B)(2) (Rev. 2006), Bryant filed a
request for an administrative hearing to challenge the suspension. An administrative
hearing was held on August 15, 2007.
the hearing, Bryant was unable to provide proof that he carried liability
insurance coverage for his vehicle prior to the date and time of the accident. Consequently,
on November 28, 2007, the DMVH hearing officer issued a Final Order and
Decision, in which he held the following:
…I find and conclude that [Bryant] failed
to show by testimony or documents that he [had] liability insurance coverage on
the date of the accident. Respondent argued that his insurance coverage did not
lapse. He contends that he used his credit card to pay for the coverage but was
unable to [produce] documents to support his argument. Therefore, the
suspension of Respondent’s registration and driving privilege must be
(R. at 9).
November 29, 2007, Bryant timely filed a notice of appeal seeking review of the
DMVH’s decision. On December 20, 2007, the Department filed the Record on
Appeal. On February 11, 2008, this Court issued an Order of Dismissal due to
Bryant’s failure to file a brief within thirty (30) days of the filing of the
Record on Appeal. See ALC Rule 37(A) (Rev. 2007).
receipt of the Order of Dismissal, Bryant moved for reinstatement of his
appeal. Although he did not provide a reason for his failure to file, the Court
nevertheless issued an Order reinstating the above-captioned matter on March 5,
2008. Thus, notwithstanding the fact that he was in default, Bryant was allowed to
file a brief in this matter and did so on April 3, 2008.
Did the DMVH
Hearing Officer err in upholding the suspension of Bryant’s driver’s license
and registration privileges when Bryant was unable to provide proof that he
carried liability insurance coverage on his vehicle prior to the date and time
of the accident?
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. 2007). 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. 2007); 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. 2007).
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
or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted
exercise of discretion.
S.C. Code Ann. §
1-23-380(A)(5) (Supp. 2007).
he could not provide proof of insurance at the hearing, Bryant argues that the
DMVH Hearing Officer nevertheless erred when he upheld Bryant’s driver’s
license suspension. Bryant alleges, inter alia, that records indicating
that he previously carried liability insurance coverage for his vehicle augment
the proposition that he was insured at the time of the accident.
South Carolina law requires motorists to maintain insurance on all motor vehicles subject
to registration within the State. S.C. Code Ann. § 56-10-220 (Rev. 2006). A
motorist who declines to purchase insurance must pay a fee (“uninsured motorist
fee”) of five hundred and fifty dollars ($550.00) at the time of registration.
S.C. Code Ann. § 56-10-510 (Rev. 2006). A motorist who does not maintain
insurance on his vehicle or fails to pay the uninsured motorist fee, and who is
involved in an accident involving injury or property damage shall automatically
have his registration and driving privileges suspended. S.C. Code Ann. §
56-10-530 (Rev. 2006). A motorist who is subject to suspension under §
56-10-530 may have his suspension rescinded if he can establish that he either 1)
carried insurance on his vehicle prior to the date and time of the accident or
2) paid the uninsured motorist fee to the Department prior to the date and time
of the accident. Id.
Bryant was operating and is the registered owner of a vehicle that was involved
in a two car accident on November 24, 2006. (R. at 12). Bryant’s vehicle is
registered in the State of South Carolina. (R. at 12). To date, Bryant has been
unable to provide proof of insurance or payment of an uninsured motorist fee prior
to the date and time of his accident. See (R. at 9, 14; Appellant
on the foregoing, and based on the fact that there is nothing in the Record to
support Bryant’s argument that he was insured prior to the date and time of the
accident, I find that the DMVH’s the Final Order and Decision must be affirmed.
also contends that the DMVH Hearing Officer erred in upholding his suspension
because the Department did not prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that
he did not have liability insurance coverage at the time of his accident. I
standard of proof in administrative proceedings is a preponderance of the
evidence. Anonymous v. State Bd. of Medical Examiners, 329, S.C. 371,
496 S.E.2d 17 (1998). Basic administrative law principles establish that an
agency bears the burden of proof in an enforcement action. See Peabody
Coal Co. v. Ralston, 578 N.E.2d. 751 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991); Randolph P. Lowell and Stephen P. Bates, South Carolina Administrative Practice and
Procedure, 200-01 (2004).
a review of the Record reveals that the Department clearly established that
Bryant did not have liability insurance coverage prior to the date of his
accident. See (R. at 14). Accordingly, I find that substantial evidence
supports the DMVH’s conclusion that Bryant was uninsured at the time of the
accident. Thus, for this reason as well, the DMVH’s Final Order and Decision is
is HEREBY ORDERED that the DMVH’s Final Order and Decision is AFFIRMED and the Department’s suspension of Bryant’s driver’s license is sustained.
AND IT IS SO
John D. McLeod
April 17, 2008
Columbia, South Carolina