Michel v. State

Decision Date03 November 2014
Docket NumberNo. 2013 CA 1419.,2013 CA 1419.
PartiesNathan E. MICHEL v. STATE of Louisiana, DIVISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US

167 So.3d 654

Nathan E. MICHEL
v.
STATE of Louisiana, DIVISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW.

No. 2013 CA 1419.

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit.

Nov. 3, 2014.


167 So.3d 656

Glynn J. Delatte, Jr., Stephen R. Edwards, Jr., Baton Rouge, LA, for Plaintiff/Appellee Nathan E. Michel.

Cynthia G. Eyre, Baton Rouge, LA, for Defendant/Appellant Louisiana Division of Administrative Law.

Before PETTIGREW, McDONALD, McCLENDON, WELCH, and THERIOT, JJ.

Opinion

McDONALD, J.

The Division of Administrative Law appeals a district court judgment granting declaratory relief that prohibited it, in an administrative proceeding, from denying an individual the opportunity to subpoena all law enforcement officers involved in his stop, detention, investigation, and arrest for driving while intoxicated. For the following reasons, we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 6, 2012, Nathan Michel was stopped and arrested for allegedly driving while intoxicated. The arresting officer seized Mr. Michel's license and issued him a “temporary license.” The document informed Mr. Michel that he had fifteen days to request an administrative hearing to

167 So.3d 657

contest the proposed suspension of his license. The document also informed Mr. Michel that he could have subpoenas issued to require the relevant law enforcement officers to appear at the administrative hearing.

Mr. Michel, in accordance with LSA–R.S. 32:668, timely requested an administrative hearing with the Division of Administrative Law (DAL).1 On September 21, 2012, Mr. Michel requested that the DAL issue a subpoena requiring the arresting officer to appear at the administrative hearing. The DAL advised Mr. Michel that the subpoena he requested could not be issued because Act 559 of the 2012 Regular Session of the Legislature, which became effective on August 1, 2012, amended LSA–R.S. 32:668 to provide that “no law enforcement officer shall be compelled ... to appear or testify” at DAL suspension hearings.

In response, Mr. Michel averred that DAL unconstitutionally applied Act 559 in a retroactive manner, asserting that the operative facts all pre- dated the August 1, 2012 effective date of Act 559. DAL reiterated that it would not issue the subpoena, indicating that it would “enforc[e] the statute as of the effective date by not issuing subpoenas compelling law enforcement officers to appear in the Implied Consent hearings on and after the effective date.”

Mr. Michel subsequently filed a “Petition for Injunctive Relief, Declaratory Judgment and Motion for Temporary Restraining Order” in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court. Mr. Michel asserted that DAL unconstitutionally applied Act 559 retroactively, and he sought a declaratory judgment to that effect. In opposition, DAL filed peremptory and dilatory exceptions. DAL asserted that the district court had no jurisdiction to consider the merits of Mr. Michel's petition because Mr. Michel had not requested the court to declare Act 559 unconstitutional. DAL also asserted that Mr. Michel's petition was premature because he had not first exhausted his administrative remedies.

On May 28, 2013, the district court issued a declaratory judgment, ruling that Act 559 “... does not apply to those arrested and ... who requested an administrative hearing prior to the effective date of the Act, August 1, 2012....” The declaratory judgment also enjoined DAL “from denying Nathan E. Michel the opportunity to subpoena all law enforcement officers involved in his stop, detention, investigation, and arrest.”

DAL has appealed, asserting that the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to issue a declaratory judgment and that Mr. Michel had not exhausted his administrative remedies prior to seeking review in the district court. DAL also urges that it did not apply Act 559 retroactively, but applied it as written at the time the subpoena was requested. In the alternative, DAL submits that Act 559 was procedural such that it could be applied retroactively.

DISCUSSION

Jurisdiction over the subject matter is the legal power and authority of a court to hear and determine a particular class of actions or proceedings, based upon the object of the demand, the amount in dispute, or the value of the right asserted. LSA–C.C.P. art. 2. Except as otherwise

167 So.3d 658

authorized by the Louisiana constitution, a district court shall have original jurisdiction of all civil and criminal matters. LSA–Const. art. V, § 16.

DAL contends that the district court, absent a constitutional challenge to a provision of the Louisiana Tests for Suspected Drunken Drivers Law, La. R.S. 32:661 –670, did not have subject matter jurisdiction to issue a declaratory judgment. We note, however, that the district court cannot be held to lack subject matter jurisdiction in the absence of constitutional authority expressly granting exclusive jurisdiction to an administrative agency or other tribunal. LSA–Const. art. V, § 16, Paulsell v. State, Dept. of Transp. and Dev., 12–0396 (La.App. 1 Cir. 12/28/12), 112 So.3d 856, 861, writ denied, 13–0274 (La.3/15/13), 109 So.3d 386. DAL has pointed to no constitutional authority divesting the district courts of original subject matter jurisdiction in this instance. Cf. Duplantis v. Louisiana Bd. of Ethics, 00–1750 (La.3/23/01), 782 So.2d 582, and Jones v. Board of Ethics for Elected Officials, 96–2005 (La.5/9/97), 694 So.2d 171, 172, cited by DAL and which involved the Louisiana Board of Ethics.2

Nevertheless, the legislature is free to enact procedures for initial submission of claims to an administrative agency for review, as long as the action of the administrative agency does not constitute the exercise of exclusive, original jurisdiction. Paulsell, 112 So.3d at 861. An exception raising an objection of prematurity raises the issue of whether the judicial cause of action has not yet come into existence because some prerequisite condition has not been fulfilled; the objection contemplates that plaintiff has filed his action prior to some procedure or assigned time, and it is usually utilized in cases wherein applicable law or contract has provided a procedure for one aggrieved of a decision to seek administrative relief before resorting to judicial action. Cheron v. LCS Corrections Services, Inc., 02–1049 (La.App. 1 Cir. 2/23/04), 872 So.2d 1094, 1103. Generally, the person aggrieved by an action must exhaust all such administrative remedies or specified procedures before he is entitled to judicial review. Id. However, the exhaustion doctrine, like most legal doctrines, is subject to exceptions and limitations. Application of the doctrine to specific cases requires an understanding of its purpose and of the particular administrative scheme involved. Jones v. Crow, 633 So.2d 247, 249–50 (La.App. 1 Cir.1993).

Mr. Michel notes that the original rationale for the exhaustion requirement is that disputes pertaining to matters of agency regulation and expertise should ordinarily be first addressed by the administrative tribunals that the legislature created to decide such issues. Polk v. State, through Dept. of Transp. and Dev., 538 So.2d 239, 250 (La.1989). Part of the function of the exhaustion doctrine is to give the agency whose decision is under attack an opportunity

167 So.3d 659

to review, supplement, and, if necessary, correct its decision. Id. Mr. Michel submits that whether Act 559 applies retroactively has nothing to do with agency regulation or expertise and that agencies simply do not have the power or competency to determine such a question of constitutional significance.

We recognize that the original rationale for the exhaustion requirement-i.e. deferral pending the agency's review of its own decision given the agency's expertise in the field-is somewhat tempered because this matter is pending before the DAL rather than the agency itself. Regardless, the sole issue raised by Mr. Michel through the declaratory judgment action is purely a legal one concerning retroactive application of Act 559. The resolution of this legal issue falls within the province of the judiciary and there is no fact-finding required at the administrative level on this issue. Rather, the application of Act 559 and the administrative claim are separate, distinct, and independent of one another. Given the procedural history, it appears that the DAL will not reconsider its position prior to the administrative hearing, and the issue will not be resolved in the administrative proceedings.3

We also recognize that the purpose of the declaratory judgment action is to “declare rights, status, and other legal relations” under contracts and statutes, among other things. LSA–C.C.P. arts. 1871 and 1872. The declaratory judgment articles (LSA–C.C.P. arts. 1871 through 1883 ) are remedial in nature. Their purpose is to settle and afford relief from uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, status, and other legal relations, and they are to be liberally construed and administered. LSA–C.C.P. art. 1881. Under these circumstances, we do not find Mr. Michel's declaratory...

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    ...expressly granting exclusive jurisdiction to an administrative agency or other tribunal. Michel v. State, Division of Administrative Law, 2013–1419 (La.App. 1st Cir.11/3/14), 167 So.3d 654, 658, writ denied, 2014–2539 (La.2/27/15), 159 So.3d 1069.The Louisiana Constitution vests the power o......

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