Chamberlain v. Dir. of Revenue

Decision Date25 April 2011
Docket NumberNo. SD 30567.,SD 30567.
PartiesShannon C. CHAMBERLAIN, Respondent,v.DIRECTOR OF REVENUE, State of Missouri, Appellant.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Chris Koster, Attorney General and Chastidy Dillon–Amelung, Special Assistant Attorney General, Jefferson City, for Appellant.Christina L. Kime, Piedmont, for Respondent.WILLIAM W. FRANCIS, JR., Judge.

Pursuant to section 577.041.3,1 the Director of Revenue (Director) revoked the driving privileges of Shannon C. Chamberlain (Respondent) for refusing to take a chemical test. Respondent filed a Petition to Review Revocation of License” in the Circuit Court of Iron County. Upon review, the trial court found in favor of Respondent because Director failed to show probable cause that Respondent was operating a motor vehicle while in an intoxicated condition. Director appeals that decision. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

Factual and Procedural History

Missouri State Highway Patrol Sergeant Matt Renshaw (“Renshaw”), and Corporal Fred Stoffregen (“Stoffregen”), were notified of a one-vehicle accident in Iron County by “Troop E radio” transmission. Stoffregen traveled to the crash site. Renshaw did not go to the scene of the crash; he went to Parkland Hospital in St. Francois County, where he had been notified the injured person was being taken.

After he arrived at the hospital, Renshaw asked an ambulance driver “if this was indeed the person they were transporting from Iron County,” and the driver confirmed it was. Renshaw identified Respondent as the person receiving treatment at the hospital and testified he was not sure how long Respondent had been at the hospital before he began questioning him. Renshaw did not know Respondent's diagnosis or his medical condition. In Renshaw's opinion, Respondent was uncooperative because he answered some questions but not others. Renshaw detected a “very, very strong odor of intoxicants coming from [Respondent's] person,” observed Respondent's eyes were bloodshot and watery, and noted Respondent had an uncooperative demeanor. Renshaw then administered the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test and observed six out of six indicators of intoxication. Renshaw testified that based on his social experiences, and his experience as a law enforcement officer, he believed Respondent was intoxicated. As a result of that belief, Renshaw placed Respondent under arrest, read him Missouri's Implied Consent Law, and requested a blood test. Respondent refused to submit to a blood test.

The evidence at the hearing consisted of a certified copy of the administrative record and Renshaw's testimony.

During Renshaw's testimony, the trial court sustained four of Respondent's objections, which Appellant now alleges were erroneous. After Renshaw testified that the radio notified him it was a one-vehicle traffic crash, occurring on Missouri 21, and one deputy was on scene, Renshaw was then asked if anything else was relayed to him over the radio. He responded, Iron County relayed through sheriff's net that the deputy had arrived on scene and that there was only one person in the—.” Respondent's trial attorney objected on the grounds the evidence was hearsay. The trial court sustained this objection. Renshaw was then asked, “What were you informed of as to the condition or location of the driver?” Respondent's trial attorney objected based on hearsay. The trial court also sustained this objection.

Renshaw was subsequently asked, “What did you do after receiving the radio dispatch?” He answered, We were notified there was one person injured.” The trial court sustained Respondent's objection to Renshaw's answer as non-responsive. Finally, Renshaw was asked if he formed an opinion as to whether or not Respondent had been driving while intoxicated. Respondent's attorney objected for lack of foundation that Respondent was driving the vehicle. The trial court agreed there had been no proof Respondent was the driver of the vehicle.

Director made no offers of proof following any of the trial court's rulings on these four objections.

The Alcohol Influence Report (“AIR”) was completed and signed by Stoffregen. Renshaw explained Stoffregen completed this report because he investigated the traffic crash....” The AIR indicated the COUNTY OF ARREST/STOP was “ST. FRANCOIS/IRON.” The AIR contained a description of Respondent's appearance prior to the arrest. The narrative supplement attached to the AIR indicated: (1) Stoffregen was advised of the accident by radio; (2) when Stoffregen arrived at the scene of the accident twenty-six minutes later, the driver of the vehicle—Respondent—had been taken to the hospital by ambulance; (3) Stoffregen observed a maroon jeep on its side, empty beer cans in the vehicle, and smelled an odor of intoxicants in the jeep; and (4) Stoffregen requested Renshaw go to the hospital to arrest Respondent and request a blood test.

The accident report identified Kelly Barton as a witness to the accident. There is no witness statement and no reference to this witness' observations anywhere else in the administrative file or in the trial transcript. The accident report also indicated Respondent owned the jeep.

After considering Director's certified records, and the testimony of Renshaw, the trial court found Director failed to show probable cause Respondent was driving while intoxicated. This appeal followed.

Director contends the trial court erred in: (1) asserting jurisdiction over this case because Respondent was arrested in St. Francois County and section 577.041 provides for review in the county of arrest; (2) sustaining Respondent's hearsay objections regarding probable cause to believe Respondent was driving because hearsay is permitted to prove probable cause; and (3) finding Director failed to show probable cause Respondent was operating a motor vehicle in an intoxicated state in that the finding was against the weight of the evidence. Respondent contends the trial court correctly determined Director failed to show probable cause Respondent was operating a motor vehicle in an intoxicated state. The issues presented for our determination are:

1. Did the venue specified in section 577.041 restrict the trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction?

2. Did Director properly preserve the trial court's alleged error in excluding portions of Renshaw's testimony for appellate review?

3. Was the trial court's finding that Director failed to establish probable cause that Respondent was driving clearly erroneous?

The Trial Court Did Not Lack Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Director's first point alleges the trial court erred in asserting jurisdiction over this case in Iron County because section 577.041 provides for review to be filed and heard in the county of arrest, which was St. Francois County. The determinative issue here is whether the venue specified in section 577.041 restricted the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction in this case.

Standard of Review

Jurisdiction is a question of law this Court reviews de novo. Matthey v. St. Louis County, 298 S.W.3d 903, 905 (Mo.App. E.D.2009).

Analysis

Pursuant to section 577.041.4, Respondent filed a Petition to Review Revocation of License” in the Circuit Court of Iron County contesting his license revocation imposed by Director following his refusal to submit to a blood test. Section 577.041.4 provides in part:

If a person's license has been revoked because of the person's refusal to submit to a chemical test, such person may petition for a hearing before a circuit division or associate division of the court in the county in which the arrest or stop occurred.

Here, Director argues section 577.041 limited the jurisdiction of the Iron County court, and subject matter jurisdiction “cannot be conferred by consent or estoppel, and the lack thereof cannot be waived.” We, however, disagree that section 577.041 limited the trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction.

Director's analysis overlooks our supreme court's ruling in J.C.W. ex rel. Webb v. Wyciskalla, 275 S.W.3d 249, 252 (Mo. banc 2009), clarifying that Missouri courts only recognize personal and subject-matter jurisdictions—both of which are based on constitutional principles. Only subject-matter jurisdiction is at issue here. Article V, section 14 of the Missouri Constitution sets forth the subject-matter jurisdiction of Missouri courts: “The circuit courts shall have original jurisdiction over all cases and matters, civil and criminal.” Application of this principle is simple: because this is a civil case, the circuit court had subject-matter jurisdiction, and therefore, the trial court had authority to hear the dispute. See Wyciskalla, 275 S.W.3d at 254.

For Director's argument to succeed, it was crucial it be framed in terms of subject-matter jurisdiction because subject-matter jurisdiction is not subject to waiver and can be raised at any time, even on appeal. See McCracken v. Wal–Mart Stores East, LP, 298 S.W.3d 473, 476 (Mo. banc 2009). “By contrast, if a matter is not jurisdictional but rather is a procedural matter required by statute or rule or an affirmative defense of the sort listed in Rule 55.08, then it generally may be waived if not raised timely.” Id.

Here, Director has confused the concept of the circuit court's jurisdiction—a matter determined under Missouri's constitution—with the separate issue of the circuit court's statutory authority to grant relief. See Id. at 477. Accordingly, the alleged error is not one regarding the lack of subject-matter jurisdiction; Director's allegation of error is essentially that the petition was filed in the improper venue based on section 577.041.4. Director admitted during oral argument that challenges to venue are subject to waiver if not timely raised. See Davis v. Kempker, 167 S.W.3d 721, 727 (Mo.App. W.D.2005). Because Director failed to timely raise this issue at the trial court level, it is not preserved, and she is...

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