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Reed v. Staffileno

Supreme Court of West Virginia

May 5, 2017

PATRICIA S. REED, COMMISSIONER, WEST VIRGINIA DIVISION OF MOTOR VEHICLES, Petitioner
v.
FREDERICK STAFFILENO, Respondent

          Submitted: April 25, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Brooke County Honorable David J. Sims, Judge Civil Action No. 15-AA-7

          Patrick Morrisey Elaine L. Skorich Attorneys for Petitioner

          Marc B. Chernenko Attorney for Respondent

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. "On appeal of an administrative order from a circuit court, this Court is bound by the statutory standards contained in W.Va. Code § 29A-5-4(a) and reviews questions of law presented de novo; findings of fact by the administrative officer are accorded deference unless the reviewing court believes the findings to be clearly wrong." Syllabus point 1, Muscatell v. Cline, 196 W.Va. 588, 474 S.E.2d 518 (1996).

         2. On appeal to the circuit court from an order of the Office of Administrative Hearings affirming the revocation of a party's license to operate a motor vehicle in this State, when the party asserts that his or her constitutional right to due process has been violated by a delay in the issuance of the order by the Office of Administrative Hearings, the party must demonstrate that he or she has suffered actual and substantial prejudice as a result of the delay. Once actual and substantial prejudice from the delay has been proven, the circuit court must then balance the resulting prejudice against the reasons for the delay.

          DAVIS JUSTICE

         Patricia S. Reed, Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles (hereinafter "DMV"), appeals from a final order of the Circuit Court of Brooke County. The circuit court's order reversed the decision of the Office of Administrative Hearings (hereinafter "OAH") that had affirmed DMV's revocation of the driver's license of the Respondent, Frederick Staffileno (hereinafter "Mr. Staffileno"). In this appeal, DMV contends that the circuit court committed error in concluding that (1) OAH's delay in issuing its decision was prejudicial to Mr. Staffileno, (2) DMV failed to prove that Mr. Staffileno knew the person driving his car was under the influence of alcohol, and (3) a new hearing examiner could not decide the case based solely upon a review of the record. After a careful review of the briefs, the record submitted on appeal, the applicable law, and listening to the argument of the parties, we affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The record indicates that on August 29, 2011, at around 9:20 p.m., State Trooper K. Castle (hereinafter "Trooper Castle") was on routine patrol on Route 2, in Brooke County, when he observed a vehicle being driven with the driver's side headlight out. Trooper Castle stopped the vehicle as a result of the headlight being out. Upon engaging the driver of the vehicle, Tiffany Haynes, Trooper Castle detected the odor of alcohol on her and observed that her eyes were bloodshot and glassy. After Ms. Haynes admitted to drinking two beers, Trooper Castle subjected her to field sobriety tests. Ms. Haynes passed the one-leg stand test, but failed the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and the walk-and-turn test. Trooper Castle then administered the preliminary breath test, which Ms. Haynes also failed by registering a blood-alcohol content of .167 percent Trooper Castle thereafter placed Ms. Haynes under arrest for DUI.

         Trooper Castle also at some point approached the passenger side window and engaged Mr. Staffileno. Trooper Castle detected the odor of alcohol emitting from Mr. Staffileno as he spoke with him. Mr. Staffileno informed Trooper Castle that he and Ms. Haynes had been drinking at a bar, and that he allowed her to drive his vehicle because he had drunk more than she had. Trooper Castle thereafter placed Mr. Staffileno under arrest for knowingly permitting his vehicle to be driven by Ms. Haynes while she was under the influence of alcohol.

         Subsequent to Mr. Staffileno's arrest, DMV issued an order, dated September 15, 2011, revoking his driver's license for a period of ninety days. Mr. Staffileno requested an administrative hearing to contest the revocation.[1] An administrative hearing was held on August 1, 2012, before hearing examiner Erica Tamburin. Evidence was presented at the hearing by Mr. Staffileno, who was represented by counsel, and Trooper Castle. The hearing examiner resigned, at some point after the hearing, without rendering a decision. A new hearing examiner, William L. Bands, was assigned to the case. Mr. Bands rendered a decision on October 18, 2015, that upheld the revocation of Mr. Staffileno's driver's license. On the same day, the Chief Hearing Examiner entered an order adopting Mr. Bands' decision.

         Mr. Staffileno appealed the decision of OAH to the circuit court. In the appeal, Mr. Staffileno contended that the decision of OAH should be reversed because of a delay of more than three years in issuing the decision, DMV failed to prove that he knew Ms. Haynes was intoxicated, and the new hearing examiner could not decide the case based solely upon a review of the record. The circuit court agreed with all three of Mr. Staffileno's contentions and reversed the decision of OAH. This appeal by DMV followed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Our review of a circuit court's decision involving an administrative agency order proceeds under the standard announced in Syllabus point 1 of Muscatell v. Cline, 196 W.Va. 588, 474 S.E.2d 518 (1996):

On appeal of an administrative order from a circuit court, this Court is bound by the statutory standards contained in W.Va. Code § 29A-5-4(a) and reviews questions of law presented de novo; findings of fact by the administrative officer are accorded deference unless the reviewing court believes the findings to be clearly wrong.

         Moreover, "[i]n cases where the circuit court has amended the result before the administrative agency, this Court reviews the final order of the circuit court and the ultimate disposition by it of an administrative law case under an abuse of discretion standard and reviews questions of law de novo." Syl. pt. 2, Muscatell, 196 W.Va. 588, 474 S.E.2d 518. With these standards in mind, we proceed to the parties' arguments.

         III. DISCUSSION

         DMV contends that the circuit court erred in finding that the delay of over three years in issuing a final decision by OAH was prejudicial to Mr. Staffileno.[2] DMV argues that Mr. Staffileno was allowed to present all his evidence during the hearing; therefore, the fact that the final order was not entered until over three years after the hearing concluded is not in and of itself prejudicial. According to DMV, under the decision in Miller v. Moredock, 229 W.Va. 66, 726 S.E.2d 34 (2011), "relief for delay is only warranted if a driver's ability to defend himself is compromised." Miller does not stand for such a proposition.

         As a preliminary matter, we will note that the law governing revocation proceedings before OAH does not impose time constraints on the issuance of decisions by that agency following an administrative hearing. See W.Va. Code § 17C-5C-1 et seq. and 105 CSR § 1-1 et seq. However, this Court has long recognized the constitutional mandate that "'justice shall be administered without . . . delay.' W.Va. Const. Art. III, § 17." Frantz v. Palmer, 211 W.Va. 188, 192, 564 S.E.2d 398, 402 (2001). We further have recognized that "administrative agencies performing quasi-judicial functions have an affirmative duty to dispose promptly of matters properly submitted." Syl. pt. 7, in part, Allen v. State Human Rights Comm'n, 174 W.Va. 139, 324 S.E.2d 99 (1984).

         Turning now to the decision in Miller, we observe that this was an appeal by DMV from an order of the circuit court that had reversed its suspension of the Respondent's driver's license for DUI.[3] The circuit court in Miller reversed the decision because of a seventeen month delay between the administrative hearing and entry of the final order revoking the Respondent's driver's license. The circuit court determined that such a delay was "presumptively" prejudicial. On appeal, DMV contended "that the circuit court failed to find that [Respondent] suffered any actual prejudice as a result of the delay and that, absent such a finding, the revocation order should have been affirmed." Miller, 229 W.Va. at 70, 726 S.E.2d at 38. We agreed with DMV in Miller that the circuit court erred in using a presumption of prejudice standard to reverse the revocation order. The decision in Miller set out the following standard for determining prejudice from a delay in the issuance of a revocation order after a hearing has been held:

On appeal to the circuit court from an order revoking a party's license to operate a motor vehicle in this State, when the party asserts that his constitutional right to due process has been violated by a delay in the issuance of the revocation order by the Commissioner of the Division of Motor Vehicles, he must demonstrate that he has suffered actual and substantial prejudice as a result of the delay. Once actual and substantial prejudice from the delay ...

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