Saturday, October 25, 2014

SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
Dawn Lock Walter vs. SCDMV

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles

PARTIES:
Appellant:
Dawn Lock Walter

Respondents:
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
08-ALJ-21-0068-AP

APPEARANCES:
n/a
 

ORDERS:

ORDER

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

This matter is an appeal by Dawn Lock Walter (Walter) from a Final Order and Decision of the South Carolina Office of Motor Vehicle Hearings (OMVH).[1] The OMVH issued a Final Order and Decision following an administrative hearing held pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2951 (2006). The Administrative Law Court (ALC or Court) has jurisdiction to review this matter pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-660 (Supp. 2007). Upon careful review of this case, the OMVH’s Final Order and Decision is affirmed.

BACKGROUND

On September 27, 2007, Officer Robert Dale, a police officer for the Irmo Police Department, responded to a police dispatch regarding an automobile accident. Upon arriving at the scene, Officer Dale observed two vehicles partially in the median and identified Walter as the driver of one of the vehicles. Upon investigating the accident, Officer Dale determined that Walter failed to yield the right of way to the other vehicle. Officer Dale smelled an odor of alcohol on Walter and noticed that her speech was slurred. He advised Walter of her Miranda rights and then administered three field sobriety tests to her. Officer Dale, who is certified by the State’s Criminal Justice Academy to perform field sobriety tests, concluded that Walter failed the tests. He arrested Walter for driving under influence (DUI) and read her the DUI arrest warnings. Walter was transported to the Irmo Police Department for a DataMaster test. After being advised of her implied consent rights and re-advised of her Miranda rights, Walter agreed to submit to a DataMaster test. The results of the test indicated that Walter’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.30%.

Based on the results of the test, Walter was issued a written Notice of Suspension pursuant to Section 56-5-2951(A). Thereafter, pursuant to Section 56-5-2951(B)(2), Walter filed a request for an administrative hearing to challenge the suspension. The OMVH held an administrative hearing on December 12, 2007. At the hearing, the State introduced, without objection, the following items: (i) a copy of Officer Dale’s DataMaster Certification card; (ii) the accident report for Walter’s accident, (iii) the implied consent form signed by Walter; (iv) Walter’s Breath Alcohol Analysis Report; and (v) the Notice of Suspension issued to Walter. Walter, in turn, introduced a handwritten log, accompanied by a letter from Captain Joe Nates of the Irmo Police Department dated October 19, 2007, that showed “malfunctions, repairs, complaints, or other problems” concerning the DataMaster machine used to produce Walter’s Breath Alcohol Analysis Report. In his closing argument, Walter’s attorney argued that the log established that the DataMaster machine’s simulator solution had not been changed since 2006, in violation of SLED policy.

On January 11, 2008, the OMVH hearing officer issued a Final Order and Decision sustaining Walter’s suspension. Walter now appeals.

ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Did the OMVH hearing officer err in upholding Walter’s suspension when Officer Dale did not specifically testify that he checked Walter’s mouth prior to administering a breath test?

2. Did the hearing officer err in upholding Walter’s suspension when Walter introduced evidence that the solution in the DataMaster machine had not been timely changed?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The OMVH is authorized by law to determine contested cases arising from the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (Department). See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-660 (Supp. 2007). Therefore, the OMVH is an “agency” under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-505(2) (as amended by 2008 S.C. Act No. 334). As such, the APA’s standard of review governs appeals from decisions of the OMVH. See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380 (as amended by 2008 S.C. Act No. 334); 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(5) (as amended by 2008 S.C. Act No. 334). See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-600(E) (as amended by 2008 S.C. Act No. 334) (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) (as amended by 2008 S.C. Act No. 334).

Thus, pursuant to the APA, this Court’s review is limited to deciding whether the OMVH’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).

DISCUSSION

Generally

S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2950(a) (2006) provides that:

A person who drives a motor vehicle in this State is considered to have given consent to chemical tests of his breath, blood, or urine for the purpose of determining the presence of alcohol or drugs or the combination of alcohol and drugs if arrested for an offense arising out of acts alleged to have been committed while the person was driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs. A breath test must be administered at the direction of a law enforcement officer who has arrested a person for driving a motor vehicle in this State while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs.[2]

Under S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2951(A) (2006), the license of a motorist who registers an alcohol concentration of 0.15% or above on a test conducted pursuant to Section 56-5-2950(a) must be immediately suspended. However, under S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2951(B)(2) (2006), a motorist who has his license so suspended may request an administrative hearing to challenge the suspension. If such a hearing is requested, the scope of the hearing must be limited to whether the motorist:

(1) was lawfully arrested or detained;

(2) was advised in writing of the rights enumerated in Section 56-5-2950;

(3) consented to taking a test pursuant to Section 56-5-2950, and the:

(a) reported alcohol concentration at the time of testing was fifteen one-hundredths of one percent or more;

(b) individual who administered the test or took samples was qualified pursuant to Section 56-5-2950;

(c) tests administered and samples obtained were conducted pursuant to Section 56-5-2950; and

(d) the machine was working properly.

S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2951(F) (Supp. 2007).

Record on Appeal

As an initial matter, there is some dispute between the parties as to the contents of the Record on Appeal in this matter. On February 14, 2008, Walter filed a Notice of Appeal with the ALC pursuant to ALC Rule 33. ALC Rule 33 requires that the Notice of Appeal contain a copy of the request for a transcript of the hearing below. Walters’s Notice of Appeal contained no such document. Further, the Record on Appeal submitted by the OMVH[3] indicates in the index that no request for a transcript was received by the OMVH.

On April 4, 2008, Walter filed a motion for an extension to file her appellate brief noting that the Record on Appeal contained neither the transcript nor the exhibits that were submitted to the hearing officer at the hearing below. Walter requested thirty days to supplement the record, which the ALC granted. On May 5, 2008 and June 6, 2008, Walter and the Department submitted their appellate briefs, respectively. On June 17, 2008, Walter submitted her reply brief and a motion to supplement the Record on Appeal with the transcript and a document she claimed she submitted at the hearing.[4] On July 1, 2008, the Department objected to this motion as untimely. On July 9, 2008, OMVH supplemented the Record on Appeal with all of the exhibits that were admitted at the hearing below by both Walter and the Department.

Although Walter did not fully comply with ALC Rule 33 due to her failure to submit a transcript request to the OMVH prior to filing her Notice of Appeal, in order to properly consider the issues in this appeal, the Court will permit the Record on Appeal to be supplemented with the exhibits admitted by the hearing officer (as provided by the OMVH) and the transcript.[5]

Checking of the Appellant’s Mouth

Walter argues that the OMVH’s decision should be reversed because Officer Dale failed to specifically testify that he complied with SLED implied consent policy 8.12.5(g) by checking Walter’s mouth prior to administering the breath test to her. The Court disagrees.

It is undisputed that Officer Dale failed to specifically testify that he complied with SLED implied consent policy 8.12.5(g) by checking Walter’s mouth prior to administering the breath test to her. However, Walter’s attorney did not mention the mouth-checking requirement until his closing argument. Thus, the question here is whether the State was required to prove that Officer Dale complied with SLED implied consent policy 8.12.5(g) even though Walter did not raise the issue until after the Record had been closed. Resolving this issue requires determining whether the State must prove compliance with SLED policy as part of its prima facie case. As discussed below, the Court concludes that the State was not initially required to present evidence showing compliance with SLED implied consent policy 8.12.5(g) in this case.

S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2950(e) (2006) governs situations where a violation of a SLED policy is alleged. It provides:

Policies, procedures, and regulations promulgated by SLED may be reviewed by the trial judge or hearing officer on motion of either party. The failure to follow any of these policies, procedures, and regulations, or the provisions of this section, shall result in the exclusion from evidence any tests results, if the trial judge or hearing officer finds that such failure materially affected the accuracy or reliability of the tests results or the fairness of the testing procedure.

S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2950(e) (2006) (emphasis added). Thus, under Section 56-5-2950(e), SLED policies must not be considered by OMVH hearing officers unless a party expressly moves for their consideration. Moreover, even in cases where a violation of SLED policy is shown, rescission of the motorist’s administrative suspension is not automatic under Section 56-5-2950(e). Rather, in such cases, exclusion of the motorist’s test results may occur if the hearing officer “finds that such failure materially affected the accuracy or reliability of the tests results or the fairness of the testing procedure.” Based on these provisions of Section 56-5-2950(e), it is certainly reasonable to infer that the compliance with SLED policies is not an element of the State’s prima facie case in proceedings like the one held below.

This inference is further supported by the case of State v. Cuccia, 353 S.C. 430, 578 S.E.2d 45 (Ct. App. 2003). In Cuccia, the Court of Appeals addressed the question of whether, under the Double Jeopardy Clause, the administrative suspension of a motorist’s driver’s license pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 56-1-286 (Supp. 2002) for driving with a blood alcohol level of .02% or more while under the age of 21 prohibited a subsequent criminal prosecution of the motorist for DUI. In analyzing the issue under the Blockburger[6] “same elements” test, the Court of Appeals compared the elements required for an administrative suspension under Section 56-1-286 with the elements necessary to prove the crime of DUI. Notably, in setting forth the elements of a Section 56-1-286 administrative suspension, the Court of Appeals did not include compliance with SLED policy.[7] Cuccia, 353 S.C. at 438, 578 S.E.2d at 50.

Based on Section 56-5-2950(e) and Cuccia, the Court concludes that the State is not required to present evidence demonstrating law enforcement’s compliance with SLED implied consent policy 8.12.5(g) in cases where the motorist does not timely raise the issue. In this case, as discussed above, Walter’s attorney did not raise the issue of Officer Dale’s compliance with SLED implied consent policy 8.12.5(g) until his closing argument. In the Court’s view, this was untimely. As the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, “[t]he fundamental requisite of due process of law is the opportunity to be heard.” Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 314 (1950) (quoting Grannis v. Ordean, 234 U.S. 385, 394 (1914)). Certainly, the opportunity to be heard has little value if the State is not sufficiently apprised, at a time during the hearing in which it can still present evidence, of the issues involved in the hearing. See Murdock v. Murdock, 338 S.C. 322, 333, 526 S.E.2d 241, 248 (Ct. App. 1999) (“Procedural due process requires that a litigant be placed on notice of the issues which the court is to consider.”). By waiting until his closing argument to raise the issue of compliance with SLED implied consent policy 8.12.5(g), Walter’s attorney deprived the State of a sufficient opportunity to respond. Accordingly, the Court concludes that Officer Dale’s failure to specifically testify that he complied with SLED implied consent policy 8.12.5(g) in administering the DataMaster test to Walter did not mandate rescission of Walter’s suspension since Walter failed to timely raise the issue.

Accuracy of the DataMaster Test

Walter also argues that OMVH’s decision should be reversed because the Irmo Police Department’s log for the DataMaster machine that produced Walter’s Breath Alcohol Analysis Report indicates that the Irmo Police Department last changed the machine’s simulator solution in October 2006, in violation of SLED policy. The Court disagrees.

SLED implied consent policy 8.12.2(C)(1) provides in pertinent part that:

The DataMaster requires a solution change after 100 simulator tests or 31 days, whichever comes first. . . . It is acceptable for the period between solution changes to exceed 31 days, since the instrument will not allow breath tests to occur until the solution is changed.

When there is conflicting evidence, it is up to the hearing officer as the trier of fact to determine its credibility and weight. See QZO, Inc. v. Moyer, 358 S.C. 246, 257, 594 S.E.2d 541, 547 (Ct. App. 2004). The fact that the record, when considered as a whole, presents “[t]he possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency’s finding from being supported by substantial evidence.” Hargrove, 360 S.C. at 290, 599 S.E.2d at 611.

In the present case, the OMVH hearing officer’s decision was supported by substantial evidence. First, the log and accompanying letter presented by Walter do not conclusively prove that the DataMaster machine’s simulator solution had not been changed since October 2006. For instance, according to the letter accompanying the log, the log shows “malfunctions, repairs, complaints, or other problems” concerning the DataMaster machine. It is unclear from the log and the accompanying letter whether the log reflects instances in which the simulator solution was changed when there was no malfunction, repair, complaint or other problem. Additionally, no testimony was presented to explain the contents of the log.

Second, other evidence in the Record indicates that the DataMaster machine’s simulator solution had been timely changed and that Walter’s breath test results were reliable. For instance, the DataMaster machine clearly allowed the breath test to occur. As noted above, SLED implied consent policy 8.12.2(C)(1) specifically states that “[i]t is acceptable for the period between solution changes to exceed 31 days, since the instrument will not allow breath tests to occur until the solution is changed.” Moreover, Walter’s Breath Alcohol Analysis Report shows that the DataMaster machine passed a simulator test that was performed prior to the evaluation of Walter’s breath sample. Passage of the simulator test is evidence that the DataMaster machine was working properly and that its results were reliable. See State v. Parker, 271 S.C. 159, 163, 245 S.E.2d 904, 906 (1978); State v. Huntley, 349 S.C. 1, 5, 562 S.E.2d 472, 474 (2002). For these reasons, the Court finds that there was substantial evidence to support the OMVH hearing officer’s decision.

Walter further argues that the OMVH’s decision should be reversed because the log shows that a simulator failure occurred on September 17, 2007 and that no corrective action was taken. The Court disagrees.

It is well-settled that an issue cannot be raised for the first time on appeal. Staubes v. City of Folly Beach, 339 S.C. 406, 412, 529 S.E.2d 543, 546 (2000).[8] To be preserved for appellate review, the issue must have been: (1) raised to and ruled upon by the trial court; (2) raised by the appellant; (3) raised in a timely manner; and (4) raised to the trial court with sufficient specificity. S.C. Dep’t of Transp. v. First Carolina Corp. of S.C., 372 S.C. 295, 301-02, 641 S.E.2d 903, 907 (2007) (quoting Jean Hoefer Toal et al., Appellate Practice in South Carolina 57 (2d ed. 2002)).

Here, Walter never specifically raised the issue of the September 17, 2007 simulator failure at the administrative proceeding. Therefore, it is not preserved for appellate review.

ORDER

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

AND IT IS SO ORDERED.

______________________________

Ralph K. Anderson, III

Administrative Law Judge

January 9, 2009

Columbia, South Carolina



[1] Pursuant to 2008 S.C. Act No. 279, the name of the Division of Motor Vehicle Hearings was changed to the Office of Motor Vehicle Hearings effective October 1, 2008.

[2] Blood and urine tests may be administered to motorists arrested for DUI only if certain other conditions are met. See S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2950(a) (2006).

[3] The Court notes that OMVH is not a division of the Department of Motor Vehicles, but a separate and distinct office of the ALC.

[4] This document consisted of a letter from Captain Joe Nates of the Irmo Police Department, dated October 24, 2007, with the log discussed above attached thereto.

[5] Though the Court is permitting the supplement of the Record in this instance, it cautions that counsel for the motorists should diligently follow the proper procedures in filing a Notice of Appeal in the future.

[6] Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932).

[7] Similar to Section 56-5-2950, Section 56-1-286 requires that breath tests be administered using methods approved by SLED.

[8] “South Carolina appellate courts do not recognize the plain error rule.” Elam v. S.C. Dep’t of Transp., 361 S.C. 9, 24, 602 S.E.2d 772, 780 (2004).


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