Daniels v. Ziegler

Decision Date29 August 2013
Docket NumberNo. 20130044.,20130044.
Citation835 N.W.2d 852,2013 ND 157
PartiesJonathan J. DANIELS, Appellee v. Francis ZIEGLER, Director, North Dakota Department of Transportation, Appellant.
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

CROTHERS, Justice.

[¶ 1] The Department of Transportation appeals from a judgment reversing the Department's decision to suspend Jonathan Daniels' driving privileges for 365 days. Because the issue that formed the basis for the district court's decision was not sufficiently articulated in Daniels' specification of errors, we reverse the judgment and reinstate the administrative decision.

I

[¶ 2] In the early morning hours of March 7, 2012, a Dickey County deputy sheriff responded to a call about a vehicle stuck in a ditch with an attached trailer partially on the roadway. The deputy arrived at the scene, walked up to the vehicle which was running, and knocked on the driver side window, waking Daniels. The deputy, who knew Daniels, noted Daniels was confused when asked about his current location. Daniels told the deputy he “hit the ditch” and rather than wake anyone, he decided to sleep in the pickup and seek assistance in the morning. The deputy noticed a “faint” odor of alcohol on Daniels and an open can of beer in the vehicle, and after being asked whether he had been drinking, Daniels told the deputy he hadn't been drinking that much.” Daniels agreed to take field sobriety tests and failed some of them. Daniels submitted to an S–D5 test which registered 0.09, and the deputy placed Daniels under arrest for actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The deputy took Daniels to a hospital for a blood test, which yielded a result of “0.084 g/100ml.” The deputy on the report and notice form filled in the “Test Results” as “0.08%.”

[¶ 3] At the administrative hearing, Daniels raised several issues including that the Department lacked authority to suspend his driving privileges because the deputy did not adequately complete the report and notice form and the submission for blood form 104. Specifically, Daniels claimed the deputy “failed to establish reasonable suspicion to lawfully detain [him], failed to provide a copy of the bottom portion of Form 104 to the Department, and ... failed to indicate on the Report and Notice the words ‘b.a.c.’ after the test results of .08% were filled in by” the deputy. The Department rejected these arguments and suspended Daniels' driving privileges for 365 days. The Department ruled the deputy was operating under the “community caretaking function” and had reasonable grounds to believe Daniels was in actual physical control in violation of the law. The Department ruled the deputy's failure to provide the bottom portion of form 104 was not “fatal” because only a duplicate of the certified copy of the analytical report is required to be forwarded to the Department. The Department rejected Daniels' contention that the reported test results did not indicate it was a blood alcohol concentration or if it was by weight, by volume or by density, concluding: “For the purposes of the Report and Notice Form, a reasonable person can conclude that the recorded amount of .08% relates to the blood alcohol concentration at the time the blood specimen was obtained despite inclusion [sic] of the initials ‘b.a.c.’

[¶ 4] Daniels appealed to the district court, listing 23 specifications of error. The court reversed the Department's decision, concluding the Department lacked the authority to suspend because this Court's decisions create a “bright-line rule” that requires the words “by weight” follow the numerals written on the test result line of the report and notice form and the “officer failed to comply with N.D.C.C. § 39–20–05(1)[sic] because the test results did not show a blood alcohol concentration of ‘at least eight one-hundredths of one percent by weight ’ as required by the statute.” The court did not address Daniels' other arguments.

II

[¶ 5] The Department argues the district court erred in ruling it had no authority to suspend Daniels' driving privileges. We review the Department's decision to suspend a person's driving privileges under the Administrative Agencies Practice Act, N.D.C.C. ch. 28–32, and must affirm unless:

“1. The order is not in accordance with the law.

2. The order is in violation of the constitutional rights of the appellant.

3. The provisions of this chapter have not been complied with in the proceedings before the agency.

4. The rules or procedure of the agency have not afforded the appellant a fair hearing.

5. The findings of fact made by the agency are not supported by a preponderance of the evidence.

6. The conclusions of law and order of the agency are not supported by its findings of fact.

7. The findings of fact made by the agency do not sufficiently address the evidence presented to the agency by the appellant.

8. The conclusions of law and order of the agency do not sufficiently explain the agency's rationale for not adopting any contrary recommendations by a hearing officer or an administrative law judge.”N.D.C.C. § 28–32–46. This Court reviews the agency's findings and decisions, and the district court's analysis is entitled to respect if it is sound.” Morrow v. Ziegler, 2013 ND 28, ¶ 6, 826 N.W.2d 912.

A

[¶ 6] Courts have limited authority to review administrative agency decisions:

“The right to appeal is governed solely by statute, Interest of K.J., 2010 ND 46, ¶ 14, 779 N.W.2d 635, and an appellant must meet the statutory requirements for perfecting an administrative appeal for a district court to obtain subject matter jurisdiction over the appeal. Geffre v. North Dakota Dep't of Health, 2011 ND 45, ¶ 9, 795 N.W.2d 681. We are mindful that an appeal from an administrative agency to the district court invokes that court's appellate jurisdiction, Lewis v. North Dakota Workers Comp. Bureau, 2000 ND 77, ¶ 8, 609 N.W.2d 445, and that appeals from an administrative agency involve issues of separation of powers of the three branches of government. See Power Fuels, Inc. v. Elkin, 283 N.W.2d 214, 220–21 (N.D.1979); N.D. Const. art. XI, § 26.” Meier v. North Dakota Dep't of Human Servs., 2012 ND 134, ¶ 4, 818 N.W.2d 774.

[¶ 7] Under N.D.C.C. § 39–20–06, a person appealing to the district court from the Department's decision to suspend driving privileges must comply with the specifications-of-error requirement of N.D.C.C. § 28–32–42(4). See Richter v. North Dakota Dep't of Transp., 2010 ND 150, ¶ 20, 786 N.W.2d 716;Bienek v. Department of Transp., 2007 ND 117, ¶ 15, 736 N.W.2d 492;Dettler v. Sprynczynatyk, 2004 ND 54, ¶ 15, 676 N.W.2d 799;Sonsthagen v. Sprynczynatyk, 2003 ND 90, ¶ 14, 663 N.W.2d 161;Isaak v. Sprynczynatyk, 2002 ND 64, ¶ 7, 642 N.W.2d 860. We have explained:

“Both statutes require the filing of specifications of error. To comply with the requirements of N.D.C.C. § 28–32–42(4), the specifications of error must ‘identify what matters are truly at issue with sufficient specificity to fairly apprise the agency, other parties, and the court of the particular errors claimed.’ Vetter v. N.D. Workers Comp. Bureau, 554 N.W.2d 451, 454 (N.D.1996). This Court stated that after its decision in Vetter, it would no longer tolerate imprecise or boilerplate specifications of error. See generally id. Boilerplate specifications of error are those that are general enough to apply to any administrative agency appeal. Sonsthagen v. Sprynczynatyk, 2003 ND 90, ¶ 14, 663 N.W.2d 161. This rationale has also been applied in driver's license suspension cases. Id. Furthermore, the same purpose for filing the specifications of error applies under both statutes—to prevent meaningless specifications of error. We recognize that compliance with the specifications-of-error requirement, because of the different time limitations for filing, may be more difficult under N.D.C.C. § 39–20–06, but this is for the legislature to address.”

Dettler, at ¶ 15.

[¶ 8] Most of the specifications of error filed by Daniels simply parrot the provisions of N.D.C.C. § 28–32–46 and are therefore boilerplate because they are general enough to apply to any administrative appeal. The only specification of error possibly encompassing Daniels' claim that the report and notice form was fatally flawed because it did not include “b.a.c.” in the “Test Results” line states: “The hearing officer erred in concluding the Department had jurisdiction, despite undisputed evidence of noncompliance with N.D.C.C. § 39–20–03.1 and N.D.C.C. § 39–07–10.”

[¶ 9] Section 39–20–03.1, N.D.C.C., provides:

“If a person submits to a test under section 39–20–01, 39–20–02, or 39–20–03 and the test shows that person to have an alcohol concentration of at least eight one-hundredths of one percent by weight or, with respect to a person under twenty-one years of age, an alcohol concentration of at least two one-hundredths of one percent by weight at the time of the performance of a chemical test within two hours after the driving or being in actual physical control of a vehicle, the following procedures apply:

1. The law enforcement officer shall immediately issue to that person a temporary operator's permit if the person then has valid operating privileges, extending driving privileges for the next twenty-five days, or until earlier terminated by the decision of a hearing officer under section 39–20–05. The law enforcement officer shall sign and note the date on the temporary operator's permit. The temporary operator's permit serves as the director's official notification to the person of the director's intent to revoke, suspend, or deny driving privileges in this state.

2. If a test administered under section 39–20–01 or 39–20–03 was by urine sample or by drawing blood as provided in section 39–20–02 and the individual tested is not a resident of an area in which...

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