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Brackett v. Thomas

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 4, 2017

WAYNE T. BRACKETT, JR., Petitioner,
v.
KELLY J. THOMAS, Commissioner, Respondent.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 6 February 2017.

         Appeal by respondent from order entered 16 June 2016 by Judge Susan E. Bray in Guilford County, No. 16 CVS 2827 Superior Court.

          Joel N. Oakley for petitioner-appellee.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Christopher W. Brooks, for respondent-appellant.

          TYSON, Judge.

         I. Procedural Background

         Wayne T. Brackett, Jr. ("Petitioner") filed a complaint against Kelly J. Thomas, Commissioner of the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, ("Respondent") on 19 January 2016. Petitioner alleged he was arrested and charged with driving while impaired on 13 August 2015. Petitioner further alleged "[Respondent] notified Petitioner that effective January 18, 2016, [P]etitioner's driving privileges were to be suspended and revoked based on a refusal to submit to a chemical test."

          Petitioner requested an administrative hearing before the Division of Motor Vehicles ("DMV"), which was conducted on 7 January 2016. The DMV administrative hearing officer upheld the suspension of Petitioner's driving privileges. Petitioner thereafter filed a petition for a hearing in superior court, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 20-16.2 and 20-25 (2015).

         The superior court heard Petitioner's petition on 6 June 2016 and reversed the decision of the DMV, holding "[t]he record does not support the conclusion under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-16.2(d)(5)." Petitioner was later convicted of the underlying charge of impaired driving. Respondent appeals and argues the superior court erred in reversing the administrative decision of the DMV hearing officer. We affirm.

         II. Statement of Jurisdiction

         Jurisdiction lies in this Court as an appeal of a final judgment of a superior court entered upon review of an administrative agency pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-27(b)(1).

         III. Standard of Review

         On appeal from a DMV hearing, the superior court sits as an appellate court and determines "whether there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's findings of fact and whether the conclusions of law are supported by the findings of fact and whether the Commissioner committed an error of law in revoking the license." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-16.2(e) (2015). This Court reviews the superior court's decision to "'(1) determin[e] whether the trial court exercised the appropriate scope of review and, if appropriate, (2) decid[e] whether the court did so properly.'" Johnson v. Robertson, 227 N.C.App. 281, 286-87, 742 S.E.2d 603, 607 (2013) (quoting ACT-UP Triangle v. Comm'n for Health Servs., 345 N.C. 699, 706, 483 S.E.2d 388, 392 (1997)).

         "The standard of review for an appellate court upon an appeal from an order of the superior court affirming or reversing an administrative agency decision is the same standard of review as that employed by the superior court." Dorsey v. UNC-Wilmington, 122 N.C.App. 58, 62-63, 468 S.E.2d 557, 560 (1996) (citation omitted). We apply the same standard of review required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-16.2(e) for reviewing a DMV decision to revoke a petitioner's driving privileges for a willful refusal to submit to chemical analysis for an implied-consent charge. On appeal, "there is a presumption in favor of regularity and correctness in proceedings in the trial court with the burden on the appellant to show error." L. Harvey & Son Co. v. Jarman, 76 N.C.App. 191, 195-96, 333 S.E.2d 47, 50 (1985) (citing In re Moore, 306 N.C. 394, 293 S.E.2d 127 (1982), app. dism., 459 U.S. 1139, 74 L.Ed.2d 987 (1983)).

         IV. Analysis

         Respondent argues the superior court erred in reversing the DMV's decision. The Commissioner asserts the agency record contains substantial evidence to support the findings of fact, and the findings of fact support the hearing officer's conclusion that Petitioner willfully refused to submit to chemical analysis. We disagree.

          This appeal arises from a revocation proceeding under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-16.2, "which authorizes a civil revocation of the driver's license when a driver has willfully refused to submit to a chemical analysis." Steinkrause v. Tatum, 201 N.C.App. 289, 292, 689 S.E.2d 379, 381 (2009), aff'd per curiam, 364 N.C. 419, 700 S.E.2d 222 (2010). N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-16.2 "provides for a civil hearing at which the driver can contest the revocation of her driver's license." Id. at 292, 689 S.E.2d at 381.

         Pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-16.2(d), the hearing is limited to consideration of whether:

(1) The person was charged with an implied-consent offense or the driver had an alcohol concentration restriction on the drivers license pursuant to G.S. 20-19;
(2) A law enforcement officer had reasonable grounds to believe that the person had committed an implied-consent offense or violated the alcohol concentration restriction on the drivers license;
(3) The implied-consent offense charged involved death or critical injury to another person, if this allegation ...

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