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Guthmiller v. Director, North Dakota Department of Transportation

Supreme Court of North Dakota

January 22, 2018

Trent Allen Guthmiller, Appellant
v.
Director, North Dakota Department of Transportation, Appellee

         Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Bruce A. Romanick, Judge.

          Michael R. Hoffman, Bismarck, ND, for appellant.

          Michael T. Pitcher, Office of the Attorney General, Bismarck, ND, for appellee.

          OPINION

          Jensen, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Trent Guthmiller appeals from a district court judgment affirming a North Dakota Department of Transportation ("DOT") decision disqualifying his commercial driving privileges for 60 days. Guthmiller argues the DOT misapplied the law in its application of N.D.C.C. § 39-06.2-10(15) by disqualifying his commercial driving privileges based on the commission of two serious traffic violations within three years rather than the conviction of two serious traffic violations within three years. We reverse.

         I

         [¶ 2] In October 2016, the DOT notified Guthmiller that his commercial driving privileges were disqualified for 60 days because he had committed two serious traffic violations within the last three years. Guthmiller committed the violations of speeding and aggravated reckless driving. The speeding violation, for going 69 miles per hour in a 50 mile-per-hour zone, occurred on February 19, 2013, and Guthmiller was convicted on February 26, 2013. The aggravated reckless driving violation occurred on March 14, 2015, and Guthmiller was convicted on October 24, 2016. The violations occurred within three years, but the convictions were approximately three years and ten months apart.

         [¶ 3] At the administrative hearing on his commercial driving disqualification, Guthmiller did not contest the commission of the violations. The hearing officer determined the plain language of N.D.C.C. § 39-06.2-10(15) requires the convictions to take place within three years, not the commission of the violations. Therefore, the hearing officer recommended Guthmiller's commercial driving privileges not be disqualified because the convictions for Guthmiller's two serious traffic violations occurred outside the three-year time period.

         [¶ 4] The DOT director did not follow the hearing officer's recommendation, concluded the violations must be committed within three years, and disqualified Guthmiller's commercial driving privileges for 60 days. The director determined the statute emphasizes the number of violations committed during the time period, not the date the individual was convicted of the violations. The director also concluded the guidance on the relevant federal act provides that if three years have not elapsed since the original violation, the individual is subject to disqualification.

         [¶ 5] Guthmiller appealed the DOT's decision to the district court, arguing the disqualification was not in accordance with N.D.C.C. § 39-06.2-10(15). The district court affirmed the DOT's decision. The district court determined the statute was ambiguous, looked outside the plain language of the statute, and concluded the legislative history and federal interpretation supported the DOT's interpretation that the statute required the commission of two serious traffic violations within three years rather than two convictions of serious traffic violations within three years. Guthmiller appealed the district court's order affirming the DOT's disqualification of his commercial driving privileges.

         II

         [¶ 6] Guthmiller argues the district court's order is not in accordance with the law, and this Court must reverse Guthmiller's commercial driving disqualification. This Court reviews administrative agency decisions to suspend driving privileges under N.D.C.C. ch. 28-32 and accords great deference to the agency's decision. Hamre v. N.D. Dep't of Transp., 2014 ND 23, ¶ 5, 842 N.W.2d 865. This Court must affirm an agency's decision unless:

1. The order is not in accordance with the law.
2. The order is in violation of the constitutional rights of ...

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