Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES et al., Defendants and Appellants. (Cal. Ct. App., Apr. 15, 2022, No. B305604) 2022 WL 1125370
DMV Administrative Hearings after DUI Arrests and challenge by California DUI Lawyers
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) conducts administrative hearings to suspend a driver’s license after an arrest for driving under the influence. At these hearings, the DMV hearing officers act both as advocates for the DMV and as triers of fact. The DMV authorizes its managers to change hearing officers’ decisions, or order the hearing officers to change their decisions, without notice to the driver.
The California DUI Lawyers Association (CDLA) sued the DMV and its director for injunctive and declaratory relief. CDLA alleged: (1) violation of 42 United States Code section 1983 affecting due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (section 1983); (2) violation of due process rights under article I, section 7 of the California Constitution (state due process); and (3) “illegal expenditure of funds” under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a (section 526a). CDLA alleged that the lack of a neutral hearing officer, and the ex parte communications between DMV managers and hearing officers, violate drivers’ rights to procedural due process under the California and United States Constitutions.
CDLA and the DMV each moved for summary judgment. The trial court held CDLA did not have taxpayer standing to assert its claims. The trial court granted the DMV’s motion for summary judgment on that basis, and denied CDLA’s motion for summary judgment. In California DUI Lawyers Assn. v. Department of Motor Vehicles (2018) 20 Cal.App.5th 1247 (CDLA I), this court reversed the judgment, with instructions to vacate the orders granting the DMV’s summary judgment motion and denying CDLA’s summary judgment motion.
On remand, and after further briefing, the trial court addressed the merits of the parties’ motions. It denied both parties’ motions for summary judgment, but (1) granted the DMV’s motion for summary adjudication of CDLA’s claim under section 1983); and (2) granted CDLA’s motion for summary adjudication of its state due process claim and section 526a causes of action. The trial court concluded the DMV’sallowing for ex parte managerial interference with the hearing officers’ decision-making violates due process under the California Constitution, and constitutes waste under Code of Civil Procedure section 526a. The trial court also granted the DMV’s motion for summary adjudication on the following issue: “As a matter of law, the DMV hearing officer’s dual role as advocate for the DMV and trier of fact does not violate due process.”
The trial court entered judgment in favor of the DMV on the first cause of action (section 1983), and in favor of CDLA on the second (state due process) and third (section 526a) causes of action. The judgment enjoined the DMV from maintaining or implementing a structure allowing managerial interference with hearing officers’ decision-making through “ex parte communications or command control.” It also found CDLA to be the prevailing party for purposes of an award of attorneys’ fees.
On appeal, CDLA appeals from the judgment contending the trial court erred by: (1) granting the DMV summary adjudication on the issue of whether a hearing officer’s dual roles as advocate for the DMV and adjudicator violates drivers’ due process rights; and (2) granting the DMV’s motion for summary adjudication of CDLA’s first cause of action under section 1983.
The court of appeal concluded that the CDLA was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on each of its causes of action and that CDLA was entitled to summary judgment.
DMV Administrative Per Se System and suspension of a license after a DUI
The DMV abuses the ‘administrative per se’ or ‘APS’ system to suspend a driver’s license following an arrest for driving under the influence. ‘Under the administrative per se law, the DMV must immediately suspend the driver’s license of a person who is driving with .08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood. ([Veh. Code,] § 13353.2, subd. (a)(1).) The procedure is called ‘administrative per se’ because it does not impose criminal penalties, but suspends a person’s driver’s license as an administrative matter upon a showing the person was arrested for driving with a certain blood-alcohol concentration ….’ (MacDonald v. Gutierrez (2004) 32 Cal.4th 150, 155.)
“ ‘When a driver is arrested for driving under the influence and is determined to have a prohibited blood-alcohol content (BAC), the arresting officer or the DMV serves the driver with a “notice of [an] order of suspension or revocation” of his or her driver’s license, advising that the suspension will become effective 30 days from the date of service. (Veh. Code, §§ 13353.2, subds. (b) & (c), 13353.3, subd. (a).) The notice explains the driver’s right to an administrative hearing before the effective date of the suspension if the driver requests a hearing within 10 days of receipt of the notice. (Id., §§ 13353.2, subd. (c), 13558, subd. (b).)’ (Brown v. Valverde (2010) 183 Cal.App.4th 1531, 1536-1537 (Brown).)
“At the hearing, ‘[t]he sole task of the hearing officer is to determine whether the arresting officer had reasonable cause to believe the person was driving, the driver was arrested, and the person was driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher. If the hearing officer determines that the evidence establishes these three facts by a preponderance of the evidence, the license will be suspended. (Veh. Code, §§ 13558, subd. (c)(1), 13557, subd. (b)(2), 14104.2, subd. (a) …)’ (Brown, supra, 183 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1537-1538, fn. omitted.) DMV bears the burden of proof. (Petrus v. Department of Motor Vehicles (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 1240, 1244 (Petrus).)” (CDLA I, supra, 20 Cal.App.5th at pp. 1251-1252.)
CDLA’s Complaint that the APS System violates State and Federal Due Process
CDLA filed a complaint on August 1, 2014, alleging that the APS hearing system is unfair and unconstitutional. CDLA alleged that continued possession of a driver’s license is a vital property right that cannot be suspended without due process of law. According to the complaint, ‘[T]he APS system … requires the Hearing Officers to act both as advocate for the DMV and arbiter/decision maker, creating an obvious and inherent conflict of interest and bias favoring one party over the other.’ CDLA alleged that as a result, the ‘APS hearings violate the State and Federal Due Process rights … of license holders by failing to provide a fair, neutral and impartial Hearing Officer.’ Also, ‘the APS system unconstitutionally allows DMV managers, executives, and/or administrators ex parte communications with the Hearing Officers and direct control over the decision-making process.’ CDLA claims that these procedures and practices are unconstitutional.
“CDLA alleged that according to DMV written materials, the hearing officer at each APS hearing acts as investigator, advocate for DMV, and fact finder. CDLA’s complaint noted that California’s Administrative Procedure Act (APA) (Gov. Code, § 11340 et seq.) states that a person may not serve as a presiding officer in an adjudicative proceeding where ‘[t]he person has served as investigator, prosecutor, or advocate in the proceeding or its preadjudicative stage,’ or ‘[t]he person is subject to the authority, direction, or discretion of a person who has served as investigator, prosecutor, or advocate in the proceeding or its preadjudicative stage.’ (Gov. Code, § 11425.30, subd. (a)(1) & (2).) However, the Vehicle Code ‘specifically exempts the APS adjudicative hearings from the prophylactic separation of functions mechanism set forth in the APA.’ CDLA also alleged that hearing officers’ ‘initial … decision to set aside a suspension is subject to ex parte review, criticism, and unilateral reversal’ by DMV management, ‘prior to it being issued to the licensee, without notice [to] or input from the licensee.’ ” (CDLA I, 20 Cal.App.5th at pp. 1252-1253.)
CDLA’s Appeal from the Judgment
Standard of Review
A party is entitled to summary judgment only if there is no triable issue of material fact and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) A triable issue of fact exists if the evidence would allow a reasonable trier of fact to find the fact in favor of the party opposing summary judgment. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 850.)
We review the trial court’s ruling on a summary judgment motion de novo, liberally construe the evidence in favor of the party opposing the motion, and resolve all doubts concerning the evidence in favor of the opponent. (Miller v. Department of Corrections (2005) 36 Cal.4th 446, 460.)
Hearing Officers’ Dual Role as Advocate and Adjudicator
Due Process Principles and suspension of a driver’s license
Both the federal and state Constitutions compel the government to afford people due process before depriving them of any property interest.“ ‘A driver’s license cannot be suspended without due process of law.’ (Cinquegrani v. Department of Motor Vehicles (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 741, 750) Whenever “ ‘due process requires a hearing, the adjudicator must be impartial.’ ” (Today’s Fresh Start, Inc. v. Los Angeles County Office of Education (2013) 57 Cal.4th 197, 212 [(Today’s Fresh Start)].)
In Today’s Fresh Start, our Supreme explained: “[T]he general rule endorsed by both the United States Supreme Court and this court is that ‘[b]y itself, the combination of investigative, prosecutorial, and adjudicatory functions within a single administrative agency does not create an unacceptable risk of bias and thus does not violate the due process rights of individuals who are subjected to agency prosecutions.’ ” (Today’s Fresh Start, supra, 57 Cal.4th at p. 221.) Our Supreme Court further explained: APS Hearing Officers’ Dual Roles as Advocate and Adjudicator Creates An Unacceptable Risk of Bias
CDLA contends the DMV’s APS hearing structure violates the California and federal due process rights of drivers by combining the advocacy and adjudicatory roles into a single DMV employee. Courts have held procedural fairness requires some internal separation between advocates and decision makers to preserve neutrality.
Although procedural fairness does not prohibit the combination of the advocacy and adjudicatory functions within a single administrative agency, having the same individual assume both roles violates the minimum constitutional standards of due process. The conflict between advocating for the agency on one hand, and being an impartial decisionmaker on the other, presents a “ ‘particular combination of circumstances creating an unacceptable risk of bias.’ ” (Today’s Fresh Start, supra, 57 Cal.4th at p. 221, quoting Morongo Band of Mission Indians v. State Water Resources Control Bd. (2009) 45 Cal.4th 731, 741.)
Evidence of a “particular combination of circumstances creating an unacceptable risk of bias” is sufficient to render irrelevant the “presumption that agency adjudicators are people of “ ‘conscience and intellectual discipline, capable of judging a particular controversy fairly on the basis of its own circumstances’ ”….” (Today’s Fresh Start, supra, 57 Cal.4th at pp. 221-222.)
“Whenever ‘due process requires a hearing, the adjudicator must be impartial.’ ” (Today’s Fresh Start, supra, 57 Cal.4th at p. 212.) Combining the roles of advocate and adjudicator in a single person employed by the DMV violates due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and the California constitution Article I, section 7The trial court therefore erred by granting the DMV’s motion for summary adjudication that a hearing officer’s dual roles of advocate for the DMV and adjudicator violates drivers’ due process rights.
Having concluded an APS hearing officer’s dual roles of advocate and adjudicator violates due process, however, we further conclude Vehicle Code section 14112, subdivision (b) is unconstitutional to the extent it permits the DMV to combine the advocacy and adjudicatory roles in a single APS hearing officer.
CDLA is Entitled to Summary Adjudication of its First Cause of Action Under Section 1983
Section 1983 provides, in relevant part: “Every person who, … subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States … to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress ….” “Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights, “ ‘but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.””” (McAllister v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist. (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 1198, 1207.) “A [section] 1983 action may be brought for a violation of procedural due process.” (Zinermon v. Burch (1990) 494 U.S. 113, 125.)
The DMV’s APS lack of neutral hearing officers, and ex parte communications between hearing officers and DMV managers violates drivers’ due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The trial court erred by denying CDLA’s motion for summary adjudication of its section 1983 claim.