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Bridgeford v. Sorel

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 27, 2019

Bryan Andrew Bridgeford, Appellee
v.
Thomas Sorel, Director, Department of Transportation, Appellant

          Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Wade L. Webb, Judge.

          Mark A. Friese (argued) and Drew J. Hushka (on brief), Fargo, ND, for appellee.

          Douglas B. Anderson, Office of Attorney General, Bismarck, ND, for appellant.

          OPINION

          JENSEN, JUSTICE

         [¶ 1 ] The Department of Transportation ("Department") appeals from a district court judgment reversing an administrative hearing officer's decision to suspend Bryan Andrew Bridgeford's driving privileges for a period of 91 days. The Department asserts the district court erred in determining a law enforcement officer was not within a recognized exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment when the officer entered Bridgeford's vehicle after he failed to respond to the officer's actions outside the vehicle. Because we hold the community caretaker exception applied and allowed the warrantless entry into Bridgeford's vehicle, we reverse the judgment and reinstate the Department's suspension of Bridgeford's driving privileges.

         I

         [¶2] On June 15, 2018, at 1:38 a.m., a West Fargo police officer observed Bridgeford in the driver's seat of a running vehicle parked in a gas station parking lot. Bridgeford did not appear to be awake and was unresponsive when the officer approached the driver's door of Bridgeford's vehicle. In an attempt to wake Bridgeford, the officer knocked loudly on the window and raised his voice for approximately 15 seconds. Bridgeford did not respond to the attempts to wake him up from outside the vehicle. The officer then opened the vehicle's unlocked door, grabbed Bridgeford's shoulder, and shook Bridgeford until he woke up. The officer testified he could smell an odor of alcohol after opening the door, he observed Bridgeford had slurred speech and bloodshot eyes, and Bridgeford admitted to consuming multiple beers. After Bridgeford failed several field sobriety tests, the officer placed Bridgeford under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, actual physical control. Bridgeford submitted to a chemical breath test, which established a blood alcohol level of 0.178.

         [¶3] An administrative hearing was held to consider whether Bridgeford's driving privileges should be suspended. At the hearing, Bridgeford argued the officer's warrantless entry into the vehicle was in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and any evidence acquired subsequent to the entry into the vehicle was inadmissible. During the hearing, the officer testified he was not investigating a crime when he came into contact with Bridgeford, but was "checking on him" because Bridgeford was sleeping in his car, and the vehicle was running. The hearing officer found the officer properly entered the vehicle after Bridgeford failed to respond to attempts to get his attention from outside the vehicle. Bridgeford's driving privileges were revoked for a period of 91 days. Bridgeford appealed to the district court. The court reversed the hearing officer's decision after concluding the entry into Bridgeford's vehicle was a search, that no exception to the requirement for a warrant applied, and any evidence gathered subsequent to the entry into the vehicle was required to be excluded from evidence.

         II

         [¶4] This Court reviews an administrative revocation of a driver's license under N.D.C.C. § 28-32-46. Olson v. N.D. Dep 't of Tramp., 2018 ND 94, ¶ 8, 909 N.W.2d 676. "In an appeal from a district court's review of an administrative agency's decision, we review the agency's decision." Haynes v. Dir., Dep't of Tramp., 2014 ND 161, ¶ 6, 851 N.W.2d 172. This Court will affirm an administrative agency's order unless:

2. The order is in violation of the constitutional rights of the appellant.
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 ...

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