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Waters v. Director of Revenue

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

October 8, 2019

HOLLY N. WATERS, Appellant,
v.
DIRECTOR OF REVENUE, Respondent.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Clay County, Missouri. The Honorable Karen L. Krauser, Judge

          Before: Cynthia L. Martin, Presiding Judge, Alok Ahuja, Judge and Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judge

          CYNTHIA L. MARTIN, JUDGE.

         Holly N. Waters ("Waters") appeals from the trial court's judgment sustaining the Director of Revenue's suspension of her driving privileges. Waters argues on appeal that the trial court erred in concluding that it did not have authority to hear and determine due process violations that allegedly took place at the administrative hearing. Finding no error, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background[1]

         On July 24, 2016, Waters was arrested at a checkpoint in Clay County, Missouri after exhibiting signs of intoxication. Following a breath test, Waters's driving privileges were suspended as a result of driving with a blood-alcohol content in excess of the legal limit set forth in section 302.505.1.[2] Waters filed a request for an administrative hearing to review the suspension of her driving privileges, and an administrative hearing officer for the Director of Revenue held a hearing on November 14, 2016. The hearing officer affirmed the suspension on November 21, 2016. Thereafter, Waters filed a timely petition for trial de novo pursuant to section 302.535 on November 30, 2016, in the Circuit Court of Clay County.

         Waters filed a motion for summary judgment on November 20, 2017, asking the trial court to set aside the suspension of her license because the administrative hearing officer who presided over the administrative hearing violated Waters's "due process rights to a fair, impartial, and meaningful hearing conducted by [a] neutral hearing officer." Waters asserted that the administrative hearing officer violated her right to due process in two respects: (1) after learning from an unidentified clerk that the Director of Revenue's file did not contain a complete maintenance report, [3] the administrative hearing officer notified a member of his support staff of the deficiency, and the member of his support staff then obtained a complete copy of the maintenance report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services' website and supplemented the Director of Revenue's file with it; and (2) over Waters's objections, the administrative hearing officer allowed the complete maintenance report to be admitted into evidence and then ruled that a breath test, which determined Waters's blood-alcohol concentration was in excess of the legal limit, was performed using properly functioning equipment by a licensed person before affirming the suspension of Waters's license.

         The Director of Revenue filed a response in which it objected to the relevance of Waters's due process claims, given that a trial de novo is an original proceeding and none of the actions taken by the administrative hearing officer are before the trial court for review. The Director of Revenue further disputed Waters's contention that due process violations occurred at the administrative hearing. The Director of Revenue asserted that it was aware of no case law or statute that prohibits the Director of Revenue's file, which initially includes the report submitted by the officer to the Director of Revenue, from being supplemented for the administrative hearing.

         After hearing arguments from counsel, the trial court denied Waters's motion for summary judgment. The trial de novo took place on July 23, 2018. Waters argued at the outset of the trial de novo that she believed that the trial court had authority to consider whether Waters's due process rights were violated during the administrative hearing and objected to the admission of the chemical breath test results in an attempt "to keep [the] issue alive." Further, Waters asked the trial court to admit into evidence the statement of uncontroverted facts filed with her motion for summary judgment and the exhibits supporting those uncontroverted facts. The trial court received both into evidence. The Director of Revenue, in its pretrial requests, asked the trial court to make findings of fact and conclusions of law on the credibility of witnesses, and whether the Director of Revenue met its burden to show that probable cause existed to arrest Waters and to show that Waters had a blood-alcohol concentration in excess of the legal limit.

         Following a trial in which the court received into evidence, inter alia, a copy of the alcohol influence report and the arresting officer's testimony, the trial court issued findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment sustaining the suspension of Waters's driving privileges ("Judgment"). The Judgment found the evidence adduced by the Director of Revenue credible, and concluded that there was probable cause to arrest Waters for an alcohol-related offense and that Waters was driving with a blood-alcohol concentration in excess of the legal limit.

         Following the entry of Judgment, Waters filed a motion to set aside the Judgment ("motion to set aside") requesting, inter alia, that the trial court make findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding whether the trial court had authority to consider Waters's allegations that her due process rights were violated during the administrative hearing. During a hearing on Waters's motion to set aside, the trial court indicated that it would not modify the Judgment to include findings and conclusions on the issue because Waters failed to request those findings and conclusions during the trial de novo. The trial court also stated during the hearing that de novo review does not afford a trial court the authority to review alleged errors during an administrative hearing. The trial court denied Waters's motion to set aside.

         Waters appeals.

         Standard of Review

         We review the "'trial court's judgment in a driver's license revocation case . . . as any court-tried civil case.'" Boggs v. Dir. of Revenue, 564 S.W.3d 693, 696 (Mo. App. W.D. 2018) (quoting Rothwell v. Dir. of Revenue, 419 S.W.3d 200, 203 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013)). We will affirm the judgment from a court-tried case "unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, unless it is against the weight of the evidence, unless it erroneously declares the law, or unless it erroneously applies the law." Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). While we defer to the trial court on issues of fact, including the resolution ...


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