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Schoon v. North Dakota Department of Transportation

Supreme Court of North Dakota

September 13, 2018

Tre Thomas Schoon, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
North Dakota Department of Transportation, Defendant and Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Cynthia M. Feland, Judge.

          Danny L. Herbel, Bismarck, N.D., for plaintiff and appellant.

          Michael T. Pitcher, Assistant Attorney General, Bismarck, N.D., for defendant and appellee.

          OPINION

          Tufte, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Tre Thomas Schoon appealed from a district court judgment affirming a Department of Transportation decision suspending his driving privileges for two years. Schoon argues that because he was given an incomplete implied consent advisory, evidence of his blood test results was inadmissible under N.D.C.C. § 39-20-01(3)(b). We reverse.

         I

         [¶ 2] In June 2017, Deputy Jeremy Alm was on patrol in Burleigh County when he observed a vehicle that appeared to be speeding. Deputy Alm initiated a traffic stop and made contact with the driver, later identified as Schoon. Deputy Alm smelled the odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle and asked Schoon to exit the vehicle. Deputy Alm noticed an odor of alcohol coming from Schoon's breath and observed that Schoon appeared to have bloodshot, watery eyes. Schoon admitted to having drunk two or three beers. Schoon consented to a search of his vehicle, which revealed two open cans of beer, one full can of beer, and several empty beer cans in the box of his pickup. Schoon agreed to perform field sobriety tests, including the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg-stand test. Relying on the field test results, Deputy Alm read the North Dakota implied consent advisory and asked Schoon to take a preliminary breath test. Schoon consented to the breath test. The test result was higher than the presumptive limit. Deputy Alm placed Schoon under arrest for driving under the influence, and read Schoon Miranda rights and an implied consent advisory. The advisory provided:

As a condition of operating a motor vehicle on a highway, or on a public or private area, to which the public has [a] right of access to, you have consented to taking a test to determine whether you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I must inform you that... North Dakota law requires you to submit to a chemical test to determine whether you are under the influence of alcohol. Refusal to take the test as directed by a law enforcement officer may result in a revocation of your driver's license for a minimum of 180 days and potentially up to three years. Do you understand these consequences? Do you consent to take the test that I am requesting?

         [¶ 3] Deputy Alm then asked Schoon if he would be willing to provide a blood sample. Schoon consented.

         [¶ 4] An administrative hearing was held. Schoon moved to suppress the blood test results because of Deputy Alm's failure to recite the part of the statutory advisory stating that refusal to consent to a blood test is a crime punishable in the same manner as driving under the influence. At the hearing, Deputy Alm explained that if an individual refuses the blood test, he then asks for a chemical breath test. If the driver refuses the breath test, then Alm reads the section of the statutory advisory explaining that refusal is punishable in the same manner as DUI. Deputy Alm testified he did not read the part of the implied consent advisory indicating that refusal is a crime punishable in the same manner as DUI, because Schoon consented to the initial request for a chemical blood test.

         [¶ 5] The hearing officer's written decision denied Schoon's motion to exclude the evidence of the blood test, concluding:

Deputy Alm recited an implied consent advisory that accurately stated the consequences of a refusal. The advisory provided by Deputy Alm to Mr. Schoon satisfied the requirements of 39-20-01, subsection 3a in light of the holding in Birchfield, and therefore, the test results are admissible under subsection 3b. NDCC 39-20-01.

Schoon requested judicial review, and the district court affirmed the hearing officer's decision that Deputy Alm's reading of the implied consent advisory fulfilled the requirements of N.D.C.C. § 39-20-01(3) and the blood sample was properly obtained.

         II

         [¶ 6] The Administrative Agencies Practice Act, N.D.C.C. ch. 28-32, governs this Court's review of the Department of Transportation's administrative decision to suspend or revoke a driver's license. McCoy v. N.D. Dep't of Transp., 2014 ND 119, ¶ 6, 848 N.W.2d 659. Under N.D.C.C. § 28-32-46, this Court must affirm the 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 the appellant.

         3. The provisions of this chapter have not been complied with in the proceedings before the agency.

         4. The rules or procedure of the agency have not afforded the appellant a fair hearing.

         5. The findings of fact made by the agency are not supported by a preponderance of the evidence.

         6. The conclusions of law and order of the agency are not supported by its findings of fact.

         7. The findings of fact made by the agency do not sufficiently address the evidence presented to the agency by the appellant.

         8. The conclusions of law and order of the agency do not sufficiently explain the agency's rationale for not adopting any contrary recommendations by a hearing officer or an administrative law judge.

         [¶ 7] This Court has explained:

When reviewing an administrative agency's decision, we determine only whether a reasoning mind reasonably could have concluded the findings were supported by the weight of the evidence from the entire record. This Court does not make independent findings or substitute its judgment. Once the facts are established, their significance presents a question of law, which we review de novo. Our standard of review for a claimed violation of a constitutional right is de novo.

McCoy, 2014 ND 119, ¶ 8, 848 N.W.2d 659 (citations and internal quotations ...


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