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Sanders v. South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

January 30, 2019

Bradley Sanders, Appellant,
v.
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles and Columbia Police Department, Respondents below, Of whom South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles is the Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2016-000228

          Submitted September 1, 2017

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

          Heath P. Taylor, of Taylor Law Firm, LLC, of West Columbia, for Appellant.

          Frank L. Valenta, Jr., Philip S. Porter, Brandy A. Duncan, all of Blythewood, for Respondent.

          LOCKEMY, J.

         Bradley Sanders appeals the suspension of his driver's license by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The Office of Motor Vehicles Hearings (OMVH) sustained the suspension and the Administrative Law Court (ALC) affirmed. On appeal, Sanders argues the ALC erred in affirming (1) the admission of hearsay evidence to establish his inability to submit to a breath test, and (2) the finding that Officer Scott Desrochers presented a prima facie case that the individual who determined Sanders was unable to submit to a breath test was a licensed medical professional pursuant to section 56-5-2950(A) of the South Carolina Code (2018). We affirm.

         FACTS/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On November 21, 2012, at approximately 4:00 a.m., Officer Desrochers of the Columbia Police Department was dispatched to the scene of a single-car accident on Whaley Street in the City of Columbia. Officer Desrochers found Sanders standing nearby, bleeding from the head and smelling strongly of alcohol. Officer Desrochers verified the personal belongings in the vehicle belonged to Sanders. Sanders denied being in an accident and could not explain how he injured his head. Officer Desrochers claimed Sanders' speech was slurred and Sanders seemed both mentally and physically "off-balance." Sanders was transported by ambulance to Lexington Medical Center.

         At a hearing before the OMVH, Officer Desrochers testified that at the hospital he was told by Nurse Albright that Sanders would not be able to provide a breath sample. Sanders objected based on hearsay. The OMVH hearing officer found the testimony was not offered to prove Sanders was unable to provide a breath sample. The DMV offered a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) urine/blood collection report signed by Nurse Albright, stating Sanders was unable to leave the hospital for medical reasons in order to take a breath test.[1] Sanders again objected based on hearsay, arguing the report should not be submitted because (1) there was no proof that Nurse Albright was a nurse and (2) he was unable to cross-examine Nurse Albright regarding her credentials and the medical reason he was unable to provide a breath sample. The hearing officer concluded the report was admissible "not for the fact that [Albright] was a licensed nurse . . ., but that [Officer Desrochers] relied upon what she said." Officer Desrochers stated that after Nurse Albright informed him that Sanders would not be able to provide a breath sample, he read Sanders his Miranda warnings and his notice of implied consent. Officer Desrochers claimed he also provided Sanders a written copy of the implied consent notice, which stated his license would be suspended if he did not provide a blood sample. Officer Desrochers testified Sanders refused to provide a blood sample; accordingly, Sanders was arrested, his license was suspended, and he was transported to jail. Officer Desrochers believed Nurse Albright was a nurse because her name tag stated she was a nurse; however, on cross-examination, he admitted he did not know for sure.

         On February 13, 2015, the hearing officer issued an order affirming the suspension of Sanders' driver's license. The hearing officer concluded Officer Desrochers' testimony was not hearsay because it was not admitted to prove that Sanders was actually unable to leave the hospital, only that the blood sample was warranted because licensed medical personnel determined Sanders was unable to provide a breath sample. Further, the hearing officer found the DMV presented a prima facie case that Albright was a licensed medical professional because she was in the hospital treating patients, represented herself as a nurse, and wore a name tag that indicated she was a registered nurse. Sanders appealed to the ALC, and by amended order filed January 27, 2016, the ALC affirmed the hearing officer's order, sustaining the suspension of Sanders' driver's license. This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Administrative Procedures Act (APA)[2] governs appellate review of ALC decisions. S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-610(A) (Supp. 2018). 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 because the finding, conclusion, or decision is:
(a) in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions;
(b) in excess of the statutory authority of ...

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