Friday, April 18, 2014

SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
Bruce L. McGee vs. SCDMV

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles

PARTIES:
Appellant:
Bruce L. McGee

Respondents:
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
08-ALJ-21-0004-AP

APPEARANCES:
n/a
 

ORDERS:

ORDER

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

In this appeal, Bruce L. McGee (“McGee”) challenges the Final Order and Decision of the South Carolina Division of Motor Vehicle Hearings (“DMVH”) issued following an administrative hearing held pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 56-10-530 (2006). McGee contends that the DMVH Hearing Officer erroneously sustained his driver’s license suspension by the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (“Department”). The Administrative Law Court (“ALC”) 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 reversed.

BACKGROUND

McGee is the owner of a 1968 Chevrolet truck, which was involved in a motor vehicle collision on March 14, 2007. At the time of the accident, McGee was out of state; the vehicle was driven by Michael E. Jackson. McGee had not authorized Jackson to drive the vehicle. McGee’s truck was uninsured at the time of the accident. However, Jackson was insured, and his insurance carrier paid all claims for damage related to the accident. McGee had not paid the uninsured vehicle fee under § 56-10-510.

As a result of the accident, the Department notified McGee that his license to drive would be suspended based on the fact that his uninsured vehicle was involved in a collision. Pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 56-10-530 (2006), McGee filed a request for an administrative hearing to challenge the suspension. An administrative hearing was held on December 5, 2007. McGee and Jackson testified that McGee had not authorized Jackson to drive McGee’s truck. On December 6, 2007, the DMVH Hearing Officer issued a Final Order and Decision in which he sustained McGee’s suspension. Specifically, he stated:

McGee[] was unable to show that there was coverage of liability insurance on his vehicle on March 14, 2007, the date of the accident. Further, he was unable to show that he had registered the vehicle as an uninsured motor vehicle pursuant to §56-10-510. Therefore, he has not shown cause why the order should not be enforced.

Although the driver was covered by a motor vehicle liability policy, I conclude that the suspension established by the legislature in §56-10-530 goes to the status of the vehicle, not of the driver.

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. 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 (as amended 2008)[1]; 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 to review agency decisions is provided by S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(5). See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-600(E) (as amended 2008) (directing administrative law judges to conduct appellate review in the same manner prescribed in § 1-23-380). 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(5).

Thus, pursuant to the APA, this court’s review is limited to deciding whether the DMVH’s Final Order and Decision is unsupported by substantial evidence or is affected by an error of law. Bass v. Kenco Group, 366 S.C. 450, 457, 622 S.E.2d 577, 581 (Ct. App. 2005). Substantial evidence is not a mere scintilla of evidence, nor the evidence viewed blindly from one side of the case, but is evidence which, considering the record as a whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion the agency reached in order to justify its action. Hargrove v. Titan Textile Co., 360 S.C. 276, 289, 599 S.E.2d 604, 611 (Ct. App. 2004). The possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent the agency’s findings from being supported by substantial evidence. Id. at 290, 599 S.E.2d at 611. The party challenging an agency’s decision has the burden of proving convincingly that the agency’s decision is unsupported by substantial evidence. Waters v. S.C. Land Resources Conservation Comm’n, 321 S.C. 219, 226, 467 S.E.2d 913, 917 (1996).

ISSUES ON APPEAL

1.      Did the DMVH Hearing Officer err in concluding that the vehicle in question was uninsured where the driver of the vehicle had an insurance policy that covered all damages?

2.      Is registration of uninsured vehicles mandated by state law?

DISCUSSION

1. Was McGee’s Vehicle “Uninsured”?

McGee argues that the DMVH Hearing Officer erred in concluding that the vehicle in question was “uninsured,” as defined by law, based on the fact that the driver of his vehicle, Jackson, was covered under an insurance policy at the time of the accident, and the carrier of Jackson’s policy paid all claims resulting from the accident. The court disagrees.

An uninsured motor vehicle is “[a]ny motor vehicle” that has no “bodily injury liability insurance and property damage liability insurance . . . .” S.C. Code Ann. § 56-9-20(1), (14) (2006) (emphasis added). In this case, it is undisputed that McGee’s vehicle was not insured. (Appellant’s Br. 2) (“The Appellant did own a [] truck for which the Appellant did not have a policy of insurance on March 14, 2007.”).

2. Is Registration of an Uninsured Vehicle Required by Law?

McGee also argues that the Hearing Officer erred in upholding his suspension because the registration of uninsured vehicles is not required by law. Section 56-10-520 states that it is unlawful for the owner of an uninsured vehicle to operate or permit another to operate his vehicle without first registering that vehicle by paying the required fee. S.C. Code Ann. § 56-10-520 (2006). In this case, however, McGee neither operated the vehicle himself, nor authorized Jackson or anyone else to operate the motor vehicle.

The Department argues that McGee’s suspension is based on § 56-10-510, which states in pertinent part that “every person registering an uninsured motor vehicle, as defined in Section 56-9-20, at the time of registering or reregistering the uninsured vehicle, shall pay a fee of five hundred and fifty dollars.” This section simply appears to indicate the fee applicable to those wishing to register their uninsured vehicles. Moreover, § 56-10-510 requires that the uninsured vehicle registration form state that the $550 fee is charged “for the privilege to drive and operate an uninsured motor vehicle on the South Carolina roads.” S.C. Code Ann. § 56-10-510 (2006) (emphasis added). By the statute’s own language, the registration of uninsured vehicles is mandated only for those owners who wish to operate their vehicle on public roads—it does not apply to those who do not operate their vehicle nor give permission to others to operate their vehicle. See Wade v. State, 348 S.C. 255, 559 S.E.2d 843 (2002) (stating that a “court must apply the plain meaning of a statute where its language is unambiguous and conveys a clear meaning” unless the statute’s interpretation leads “to absurd results not intended by the Legislature”) (internal citations omitted); Neal v. Brown, 374 S.C. 641, 649 S.E.2d 164 (Ct. App. 2007) (stating that “[i]f a statute's terms are clear, the court must apply the terms according to their literal meaning” unless “it would lead to a result so plainly absurd that it could not possibly have been intended by the Legislature”) (internal citations omitted). Because McGee had not authorized Jackson to drive his vehicle, it does not appear that suspension of McGee’s license pursuant to § 56-10-530 is warranted in the present case.

For this reason, the DMVH Hearing Officer erred in upholding McGee’s suspension. Accordingly, the DMVH’s Final Order and Decision must be reversed. It is hereby

ORDERED that the DMVH’s Final Order and Decision is REVERSED and McGee’s suspension is overturned.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

______________________________

Paige J. Gossett

Administrative Law Judge

September 22, 2008

Columbia, South Carolina



[1] The APA was amended and renumbered via 2008 S.C. Act No. 334. Accordingly, all citations to the APA in this Order are to the recently amended and renumbered sections.


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