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Davis v. South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

May 3, 2017

James Winston Davis, Jr., Respondent,
v.
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2015-001622

          Heard February 13, 2017

         Appeal From The Administrative Law Court S. Phillip Lenski, Administrative Law Judge

          Frank L. Valenta, Jr., Philip S. Porter, and Brandy Anne Duncan, all of the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, of Blythewood, for Appellant.

          H. Wayne Floyd, of Wayne Floyd Law Office, and Frank Anthony Barton, both of West Columbia, for Respondent.

          WILLIAMS, J.

         The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) appeals the administrative law court's (ALC) final order reinstating James Davis's driver's license. The DMV argues the ALC erred in finding the suspension of Davis's license violated the standards of fundamental fairness required by due process. We affirm.

         FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Davis was convicted for driving under suspension (DUS) on February 19, 2004. On February 14, 2005, he surrendered his driver's license to the DMV. Davis was again convicted for DUS on May 5, 2005. Thereafter, on June 28, 2005, the DMV notified Davis it would classify him as a habitual offender and suspend his license if he was convicted of another major violation under the habitual offender statute[1]within a three-year period. On October 20, 2006, Davis was convicted in Lexington County of his third DUS charge within a three-year period for a ticket he received on May 17, 2005.

         On April 26, 2010, the DMV reinstated Davis's driver's license after he paid all fees and met all requirements necessary to reinstate his license. At that time, the DMV had neither received notice of Davis's third DUS conviction nor classified Davis as a habitual offender. However, on September 22, 2011, the DMV received a copy of Davis's third DUS ticket from the Lexington County Sheriff's Department. Because the DMV only received a copy of one side of the ticket and was unable to determine the type of conviction Davis received, the DMV requested additional information from the sheriff's department on April 20, 2012. On October 25, 2012, the DMV received the requested information from the sheriff's department and subsequently posted it to his driving record on December 5, 2012. After posting the third DUS conviction to his driving record, the DMV notified Davis he was declared a habitual offender for accumulating three DUS convictions within a three-year period. Consequently, the DMV indicated it would suspend Davis's license for five years.

         On March 19, 2013, Davis appeared before an Office of Motor Vehicle Hearings (OMVH) hearing officer for review of the DMV's decision to suspend his license. At the hearing, Davis testified he did not have a driver's license from 2005 to 2010. Davis explained he paid all reinstatement fees and complied with DMV requirements for reinstatement prior to receiving his driver's license in 2010. Davis noted he did not receive any tickets for driving offenses between his third DUS ticket in 2005 and when the DMV issued him a driver's license in 2010. Davis contended if the DMV had notified him of his habitual offender status in 2006, he could have served at least two years of the required suspension during the time in which he did not have a driver's license. Davis indicated he sought a rescission of his habitual offender status and reinstatement of his driving privileges.

         On February 13, 2015, the hearing officer filed a final order and decision sustaining the suspension of Davis's license. The hearing officer asserted the circumstances of the delay in suspending Davis's license were similar to State v. Chavis, [2] in which our supreme court held a one-year delay in suspending a driver's license did not violate due process when the DMV was not at fault for the delay and no evidence of potential prejudice existed. See 261 S.C. at 411, 200 S.E.2d at 391. Further, the hearing officer found Davis did not attempt to take any action to serve his license suspension earlier.

         Davis appealed the hearing officer's final order and decision to the ALC. On July 16, 2015, the ALC issued a final order and reversed the hearing officer's order sustaining the suspension of Davis's license. The ALC found Davis would suffer prejudice if the DMV suspended his license because he paid all reinstatement fees and completed all requirements to regain his license in 2010, prior to receiving notice his license would be suspended. The ALC noted the delay between Davis's third DUS conviction and the day his license would be suspended exceeded the total time his license would have been suspended if it were timely imposed. The ALC explained upholding the suspension of Davis's license "would place a nonexistent affirmative burden upon [Davis] and any other licensee to shepherd through the suspension of his driver's license." Accordingly, the ALC found the hearing officer's conclusions of law were affected by an error of law, were clearly erroneous, and violated Davis's constitutional rights. This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The OMVH has exclusive jurisdiction over contested cases involving habitual offenders. S.C. Code Ann. § 56-1-1030(B) (Supp. 2016). Decisions by the OMVH hearing officer must be appealed to the ALC. S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-660 (Supp. 2016). The Administrative Procedures Act (APA)[3] governs appellate review of ALC decisions. S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-610(A) (Supp. 2016). The APA provides:

The court of appeals may affirm the decision or remand the case for further proceedings; or, it may reverse or modify the decision if the substantive rights of the petitioner have been prejudiced ...

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