CHARLESTON – A man who lost his driver’s license for three years even though he wasn’t driving has won a victory against the DMV in the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
The court upheld a lower court ruling regarding the revocation of the driver’s license of the intoxicated man because of a three-year delay in holding an administrative hearing. Chief Justice Allen H. Loughry II dissented with the majority, claiming the ruling “... has thrown open the floodgates to allow a tsunami of drunk drivers to gain reinstatement of their licenses due solely to dilatory administrative practices.”
Loughry also said in his written opinion: “A person who knowingly permits his or her vehicle to be driven by someone under the influence of alcohol is subject to the same administrative license revocation as if he or she had personally driven while intoxicated.”
The case was appealed from the Brooke Circuit Court to the Supreme Court of Appeals in West Virginia by Patricia S. Reed, commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles. The defendant in the case is Frederick Staffileno.
Honorable David J. Sims affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
The facts of the case involve a traffic stop and the subsequent revocation of a driver’s license.
According to the suit, on Aug. 29, 2011, Trooper K. Castle observed a vehicle on Route 2 in Brooke County with a non-working driver’s side headlight. He stopped the vehicle and allegedly detected an odor of alcohol from the driver, Tiffany Haynes. He purportedly also observed that her eyes were glassy and bloodshot. After Haynes got out of the vehicle and failed two of the field sobriety tests, and blood alcohol of .167 was determined, Haynes was arrested for driving under the influence, the suit states.
Staffileno was in the passenger seat and Castle allegedly detected the odor of alcohol on him also. Staffileno said he and Haynes had been drinking and he had allowed her to drive the car because he had drunk more than she had, the suit states. Staffileno was arrested also. On Sept. 15, 2011, his driver’s license was revoked for 90 days.
He asked for an administrative hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) to contest the revocation of his license. Erica Tamburin presided over the hearing on Aug. 1, 2012. The hearing examiner resigned without rendering a decision. William L. Bands was assigned to the case as the hearing examiner. According to the court’s opinion, “Mr. Bands rendered a decision on Oct. 18, 2015, that upheld the revocation of Mr. Staffileno’s driver’s license. On the same day, the chief hearing examiner entered an order adopting Mr. Bands’ decision.”
Staffileno appealed the decision because of the three-year delay. He contended that there was no proof that he knew Haynes was legally intoxicated, and that Bands was unable to decide the case on only a review of the record. Agreeing with that, the circuit court reversed the OAH decision. The DMV appealed.
The DMV argued that “...the circuit court erred in finding that the delay of over three years in issuing a final decision by OAH was prejudicial to Mr. Staffileno. The DMV argues that Mr. Staffileno was allowed to present all his evidence during the hearing; therefore, the fact that the final order was not entered until over three years after the hearing concluded is not in and of itself prejudicial,” according to the court opinion.
The appeals court affirmed the circuit court’s April 2016 order reversing the OAH decision.
Loughry, in his dissenting opinion, noted: “In allowing a DUI revocation order to be overturned under these facts, the majority has thrown open the floodgates to allow a tsunami of drunk drivers to gain reinstatement of their licenses due solely to dilatory administrative practices.”