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Reed v. Boley

Supreme Court of West Virginia

April 26, 2018

PAT REED, COMMISSIONER OF THE WEST VIRGINIA DIVISION OF MOTOR VEHICLES, Respondent Below, Petitioner,
v.
BRIAN A. BOLEY, Petitioner Below, Respondent.

          Submitted: March 6, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Pleasants County The Honorable Timothy L. Sweeney, Judge Civil Action No. 15-P-21

          Patrick Morrisey, Esq. Attorney General Janet E. James, Esq., Assistant Attorney General Charleston, West Virginia Counsel for the Petitioner.

          George J. Cosenza, Esq. GEORGE J. COSENZA, PLLC, Parkersburg, West Virginia Counsel for the Respondent.

          JUSTICE KETCHUM dissents and reserves the right to file a dissenting opinion.

         SYLLABUS

         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.' Syl. Pt. 1, Muscatell v. Cline, 196 W.Va. 588, 474 S.E.2d 518 (1996)." Syllabus Point 1, Straub v. Reed, 239 W.Va. 844');">239 W.Va. 844, 806 S.E.2d 768 (2017).

         2. "In 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." Syllabus Point 2, Muscatell v. Cline, 196 W.Va. 588');">196 W.Va. 588, 474 S.E.2d 518 (1996).

         3. "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." Syllabus Point 2, Reed v. Staffileno, 239 W.Va. 538');">239 W.Va. 538, 803 S.E.2d 508 (2017).

          OPINION

          WALKER JUSTICE.

         After he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), Brian Boley's driver's license was revoked by the Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in August 2011. Mr. Boley challenged the revocation by appeal to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), which conducted a hearing in May 2013 but then took no action for two and a half years; eventually, the OAH affirmed the revocation in November 2015. The circuit court subsequently reversed the revocation on the grounds that Mr. Boley suffered actual and substantial prejudice as a result of the long delay by the OAH and that the DMV had offered no justifiable reason for the delayed decision. The DMV contends, among other things, that the circuit court erred in finding that Mr. Boley suffered actual and substantial prejudice as a result of the post-hearing delay by the OAH. We agree and reverse the circuit court's order and remand this case for the reinstatement of the DMV's revocation order.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On August 11, 2011, Mr. Boley failed to stop at a stop sign and was pulled over by Sr. Trooper B. L. Meeks of the West Virginia State Police. While speaking with Mr. Boley, Trooper Meeks noticed the odor of alcohol on Mr. Boley's breath and observed that Mr. Boley's speech was slurred and hesitant and that his eyes were bloodshot and glassy. Mr. Boley admitted that he had consumed "a few beers." Trooper Meeks administered three field sobriety tests and a preliminary breath test upon Mr. Boley. Mr. Boley failed each test and was arrested for DUI. After his arrest, Mr. Boley consented to a secondary chemical test of the breath, which showed a blood alcohol content of .097. Mr. Boley held a Class A commercial driver's license at the time of his arrest.

         On August 16, 2011, the DMV received the DUI information sheet related to Mr. Boley's arrest, and on August 23, 2011, the DMV issued an order of revocation. Mr. Boley requested a hearing with the OAH. In his written objection to the revocation order, Mr. Boley argued that Trooper Meeks did not have articulable reasonable suspicion to stop Mr. Boley's vehicle or probable cause to arrest him. Mr. Boley further argued that Trooper Meeks failed to administer the field sobriety tests in strict compliance with standard criminal procedure and that the standard chemical test administered to Mr. Boley was not done in accordance with Department of Health regulations or West Virginia law. Mr. Boley's hearing was initially set for January 11, 2012. However, at the request of Mr. Boley's counsel, the hearing before the OAH was continued and rescheduled twice, once for a scheduling conflict of Mr. Boley's counsel and once due to the unavailability of a necessary witness. Mr. Boley's counsel made a third request for continuation of the hearing, which was denied by the OAH.

         The OAH hearing ultimately took place on May 9, 2013. Mr. Boley testified that his preliminary and secondary chemical breath tests were affected because he had smokeless tobacco in his mouth at the time of the vehicle stop and did not remove the tobacco until he was at the regional jail. On November 10, 2015, the OAH entered its decision affirming the revocation of Mr. Boley's driver's license finding that "[Mr. Boley], while the holder of a commercial driver's license, drove a motor vehicle in this state under the influence of alcohol." The OAH found that the reliability of Mr. Boley's testimony regarding his use of smokeless tobacco at the time of the vehicle stop was "questionable at best, " but even if accurate, "would not affect the disposition of the case" as the remainder of the evidence was sufficient to prove that Mr. Boley was driving under the influence.

         Mr. Boley appealed the OAH decision to the Circuit Court of Pleasants County. At his hearing on October 28, 2016, Mr. Boley's counsel asserted that as a commercial truck driver with limited education and limited alternative employment opportunities, he was prejudiced by the two-and-a-half year delay in the issuance of the OAH's order. He also asserted that due to the delay, Mr. Boley did not make any contingency plans, such as attempting to find a job that would not require him to drive, because he believed that the OAH had forgotten about his case and would not revoke his license. The DMV countered that under the decisions of this Court, Mr. Boley was required to show that the delay prejudiced him in his ability to defend himself in the license revocation proceedings in order to prove actual and substantial prejudice. The DMV also asserted that the OAH, which was not joined as a party, was a separate entity responsible for the delay in entering the order. The circuit court stayed the revocation of Mr. Boley's driver's license for a period of 150 days.

         By order dated January 17, 2017, the circuit court vacated the OAH's revocation order and reinstated Mr. Boley's driver's license. Noting Mr. Boley's limited education and limited alternative employment offers, the circuit court held that such delay was actually and substantially prejudicial to Mr. Boley "due to the uncertainty created by such delay upon one's ability to avoid prejudice as a result of a prospective suspension" and that any revocation "has and will cause [Mr. Boley] and his family to suffer considerable hardship." The circuit court also found that the DMV offered "no explanation or justifiable reason for [the two and one-half year] delay in" the issuance of the OAH's decision and presented no evidence contesting the court's findings regarding Mr. Boley's limitations and resulting hardship. It is from the circuit court's order that the DMV now appeals.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         With respect to the applicable standard of review, we recently confirmed that:

"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 ...

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