Dettler v. Sprynczynatyk, 20030292

Decision Date23 March 2004
Docket NumberNo. 20030292,20030292
Citation676 NW 2d 799,2004 ND 54
PartiesJason Aelred Dettler, Petitioner and Appellee v. David A. Sprynczynatyk, Director, Department of Transportation, Respondent and Appellant
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court
Opinion of the Court by Sandstrom, Justice.

Sandstrom, Justice.

[¶1] North Dakota Department of Transportation Director David Sprynczynatyk appeals from the East Central Judicial Districte Court's judgment reversing the Department's decision to suspendt Jason Dettler's driving privileges for ninety-one days. On appeal, the Department argues Dettler's claims that he was unlawfully seized and that the hearing officer disregarded the rules ofs evidence should not be considered, because they were not included in the specifications of error. The Department also argues the hearing officer's factual determination that Dettler had driven a vehicle within the two hours prior to his taking an Intoxilyzer test was not against the greater weight of the evidence. We conclude Dettler failed to properly specify any seizure error or any error involving a disregard for the rules of evidence by the hearing officer. We also conclude the hearing officer's factual determination that Dettler had driven a vehicle within the two hours prior to his taking an Intoxilyzer test is supported by the evidence, and we therefore reverse the district court judgment and reinstate the hearing officer's suspension of Dettler's driving privileges for ninety-one days.

I

[¶2] On February 20, 2003, at approximately 1:15 a.m., Fargoo Police Officer Jonathan Bair observed a pickup in the ditch on the north side of Main Avenue near 40th Street in Fargo. The ditch was snow-covered. The officer determined Dettler was the registered owner of the vehicle, and he located him at a nearby Hardee's. Dettler acknowledged the vehicle was his, but stated he had not been driving it. The officer had called a tow truck, and the two went outside when it arrived. Once outside, the officer observed the smell of alcohol coming from Dettler, so he asked Dettler to recite the alphabet. Dettler failed to correctly state ther alphabet. The officer detained Dettler for further investigation into how the car had gotten into the ditch and who was driving it. After asking Dettler some questions and looking around the vehicle, the officer treated Dettler as having been the driver of the vehicle. He then conducted an investigation for driving under the influence ("DUI"). The officer conducted theu horizontal-gaze-nystagmus test, the one-legged-stand test, the walk-and-turn test, and an SD-2 test. The officer arrested Dettler for DUI. At 2:17 a.m., Dettler submitted to an Intoxilyzer test, and the results showed he had a blood alcohol level of .14 percent. Dettler was notified of the Department's intent to suspend his driving privileges, and Dettler requested a hearing.

[¶3] At the March 21, 2003, administrative hearing, the officer testified he went to Hardee's because he assumed that was where the driver would be. The officer testified that when he got toe Hardee's, he "[a]sked an individual that was seated there if he was the owner of the pickup truck that was in the ditch; and [Dettler] stated that, yes he was. Provided a driver's license, identified himself as Jason Dettler." The officer testified that when he approached Dettler, Dettler did not yet have his food. The officer testified they were on the side of Hardee's where they could see the vehicle through the window.

[¶4] The officer testified he asked Dettler whether he had been driving the vehicle and asked how it had ended up in the ditch. The officer testified Dettler said that he did not know how the truck had gotten into the ditch and that he had not been driving the vehicle. He explained that "somebody that he had met at a bar in West Fargo who he did not know the name of or where he was had been driving it." He also stated he did not know which bar he had come from.

[¶5] The officer testified he asked Dettler whether he had been drinking and Dettler answered yes. The officer also testified he "asked him if he'd come out with me to take care of the vehicle as the wrecker operator was out there." The officer testified that once outside, he could smell alcohol, and he noticed Dettler's watery eyes and unfocused stare. He testified he asked Dettler whether he knew the alphabet; Dettler said yes, and the officer asked him to recite it. He testified Dettler could not recite the alphabet. He testified he placed Dettler in his squad car at that time and told him he was detaining him for an investigation into how the vehicle had gotten into the ditch and who was driving it while under the influence. The officer testified he read Dettler his rights at that time.

[¶6] The officer also testified that while he was driving over to Dettler's vehicle, Dettler stated he had been on the passenger side of the vehicle when it went into the ditch and he had gotten out on that side. The officer testified that after they arrived at the vehicle, he could see there were no footprints coming from the passenger's side, and the only tracks were on the driver's side. He testified that the tracks on the driver's side were pointy-toed and deep-heeled and appeared to be about the same size and shape as Dettler's cowboy boots. He testified he told Dettler that "based on the evidence I had that I was going to treat him as the driver." He testified he conducted a DUI investigation and arrested Dettler for driving under the influence.

[¶7] At the hearing, Dettler moved to dismiss for his unlawful seizure. Dettler argued there were not reasonable grounds to believe he had been in actual physical control of a motor vehicle. He argued he was not tested for intoxication in accordance with chapter 39-20 of the North Dakota Century Code, because it could not be established that he had been driving within the two hours prior to his being given an Intoxilyzer test to measure his blood alcohol level. Dettler also argued he believed it was an abuse of discretion to disregard the testimony about institutional pressures that officers face. The hearing officer denied Dettler's motions and suspended Dettler's driving privileges for ninety-one days.

[¶8] Dettler appealed the hearing officer's decision to the district court. On August 19, 2003, the district court entered a judgment reversing the hearing officer's decision. The district court held the evidence did not support the conclusion that Dettler had been driving the vehicle within the two hours prior to the administration of the Intoxilyzer test. The district court also concluded Dettler was seized without reasonable and articulable suspicion. The Department appealed the district court's decision.

[¶9] Dettler timely requested a hearing under N.D.C.C. § 39-20-05. The hearing officer had jurisdiction under N.D.C.C. § 39-20-05. The notice of appeal from the administrative agency decision to the district court was properly filed within seven days under N.D.C.C. § 39-20-06. The district court had jurisdiction under N.D.C.C. § 39-20-06. The Department filed a timely notice of appeal from the district court judgment under N.D.C.C. § 28-32-49. This Court has jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 6, and N.D.C.C. § 28-32-49.

II

[¶10] The Administrative Agencies Practice Act, N.D.C.C. ch 28-32, governs our review of an administrative suspension of a driver's license. Hanson v. Director, N.D. Department of Transportation, 2003 ND 175, ¶ 7, 671 N.W.2d 780. "This Court exercises a limited review in appeals involving drivers' license suspensions orci revocations." Henderson v. Director, N.D. Department of Transportation, 2002 ND 44, ¶ 6, 640 N.W.2d 714. On appeal, we review the administrative agency's decision and give deference to the administrative agency's findings. Hanson, at ¶ 7. We will not make independent findings or substitute our judgment for that of the agency. Sonsthagen v. Sprynczynatyk, 2003 ND 90, ¶ 7, 663e N.W.2d 161. We instead determine only whether a reasoning mind reasonably could have concluded the findings were supported by the weight of the evidence from the entire record. Id.; Power Fuels, Inc. v. Elkin, 283 N.W.2d 214, 220 (N.D. 1979). We also defer to the hearing officer's opportunity to judge the credibility of witnesses. Hanson, at ¶ 7. If the district court's analysis is sound, however, it is entitled to respect. Id. The conclusion as to whether the facts meet the legal standard, rising to the level of probable cause or reasonable and articulable suspicion, is a question of law fully reviewable on appeal. Sonsthagen, at ¶ 7; Hanson, at ¶ 7.

[¶11] We affirm the agency's decision 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.

III

[¶12] The Department argues, because Dettler's specifications of error were not particular enough to identify a...

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