Saturday, November 01, 2014

SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
Thomas B. Bryant, IV vs. SCDMV

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles

PARTIES:
Appellant:
Thomas B. Bryant, IV

Respondents:
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
07-ALJ-21-0595-AP

APPEARANCES:
n/a
 

ORDERS:

ORDER

STATEMENT 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.

BACKGROUND

On 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.

Thereafter, 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.

At 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 sustained.

(R. at 9).

On 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).

Upon 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.[1] 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.

ISSUE ON APPEAL

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

The 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).[2] 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. 2007).

DISCUSSION

Although 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.

Here, 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 Brief).

Based 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.

Bryant 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 disagree.

The 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).

Here, 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 affirmed.

ORDER

It 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 ORDERED.

______________________________

John D. McLeod

Administrative Law Judge

April 17, 2008

Columbia, South Carolina



[1] Reinstatement was appropriate given South Carolina’s policy favoring the disposition of issues on their merits rather than on technicalities. See Mictronics, Inc. v. S. C. Dep’t of Revenue, 345 S.C. 506, 548 S.E.2d 223 (Ct. App. 2001); see also note accompanying ALC Rule 38 (when dealing with those without substantial knowledge and experience in administrative matters, the ALC should “…make reasonable efforts to assist a party to assure fairness.”).

[2] Pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(B) (Supp. 2007), Administrative Law Judges must conduct appellate review in the same manner prescribed in Section 1-23-380(A).


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