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Daniels v. Ziegler

Supreme Court of North Dakota

August 29, 2013

Jonathan J. Daniels, Appellee
v.
Francis Ziegler, Director, North Dakota Department of Transportation, Appellant

Appeal from the District Court of Dickey County, Southeast Judicial District, the Honorable Daniel D. Narum, Judge.

Mark A. Friese, for appellee.

Michael T. Pitcher, for appellant.

OPINION

Crothers, Justice.

[¶ 1] The Department of Transportation appeals from a judgment reversing the Department's decision to suspend Jonathan Daniels' driving privileges for 365 days. Because the issue that formed the basis for the district court's decision was not sufficiently articulated in Daniels' specification of errors, we reverse the judgment and reinstate the administrative decision.

I

[¶ 2] In the early morning hours of March 7, 2012, a Dickey County deputy sheriff responded to a call about a vehicle stuck in a ditch with an attached trailer partially on the roadway. The deputy arrived at the scene, walked up to the vehicle which was running, and knocked on the driver side window, waking Daniels. The deputy, who knew Daniels, noted Daniels was confused when asked about his current location. Daniels told the deputy he "hit the ditch" and rather than wake anyone, he decided to sleep in the pickup and seek assistance in the morning. The deputy noticed a "faint" odor of alcohol on Daniels and an open can of beer in the vehicle, and after being asked whether he had been drinking, Daniels told the deputy "he hadn't been drinking that much." Daniels agreed to take field sobriety tests and failed some of them. Daniels submitted to an S-D5 test which registered 0.09, and the deputy placed Daniels under arrest for actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The deputy took Daniels to a hospital for a blood test, which yielded a result of "0.084 g/100ml." The deputy on the report and notice form filled in the "Test Results" as "0.08%."

[¶ 3] At the administrative hearing, Daniels raised several issues including that the Department lacked authority to suspend his driving privileges because the deputy did not adequately complete the report and notice form and the submission for blood form 104. Specifically, Daniels claimed the deputy "failed to establish reasonable suspicion to lawfully detain [him], failed to provide a copy of the bottom portion of Form 104 to the Department, and... failed to indicate on the Report and Notice the words 'b.a.c.' after the test results of.08% were filled in by" the deputy. The Department rejected these arguments and suspended Daniels' driving privileges for 365 days. The Department ruled the deputy was operating under the "community caretaking function" and had reasonable grounds to believe Daniels was in actual physical control in violation of the law. The Department ruled the deputy's failure to provide the bottom portion of form 104 was not "fatal" because only a duplicate of the certified copy of the analytical report is required to be forwarded to the Department. The Department rejected Daniels' contention that the reported test results did not indicate it was a blood alcohol concentration or if it was by weight, by volume or by density, concluding: "For the purposes of the Report and Notice Form, a reasonable person can conclude that the recorded amount of.08% relates to the blood alcohol concentration at the time the blood specimen was obtained despite inclusion [sic] of the initials 'b.a.c.'"

[¶ 4] Daniels appealed to the district court, listing 23 specifications of error. The court reversed the Department's decision, concluding the Department lacked the authority to suspend because this Court's decisions create a "bright-line rule" that requires the words "by weight" follow the numerals written on the test result line of the report and notice form and the "officer failed to comply with N.D.C.C. § 39-20-05(1) [sic] because the test results did not show a blood alcohol concentration of 'at least eight one-hundredths of one percent by weight ' as required by the statute." The court did not address Daniels' other arguments.

II

[¶ 5] The Department argues the district court erred in ruling it had no authority to suspend Daniels' driving privileges. We review the Department's decision to suspend a person's driving privileges under the Administrative Agencies Practice Act, N.D.C.C. ch. 28-32, and must affirm 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 ...

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