THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
The State, Respondent
Robert Lee Bacote, Petitioner.
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF
Appeal From Berkeley County
Hicks B. Harwell, Jr., Judge
Opinion No. 24794
Heard April 21, 1998 - Filed June 1, 1998
Stephen P. Groves, Sr., and Stephen L. Brown,
both of Young, Clement, Rivers & Tisdale, L.L.P., of
Charleston; and Reese 1. Joye and John L.
Drennan, both of Joye Law Firm, L.L.P., of North
Charleston, for petitioner.
Assistant Solicitor Brent A. Gray, of Moncks
Corner, for respondent.
MOORE, A.J.: Petitioner sought a writ of certiorari to review
the Court of Appeals' decision in State v. Bacote, Op. No. 97-UP-105 (S.C.
Ct. App. filed February 6, 1997). We affirm.
After petitioner was arrested for driving under the influence
(DUI) on June 26, 1994, he refused to take the breathalyzer test. He
requested an administrative hearing from the South Carolina Department
of Public Safety (SCDPS) to determine whether his license should be
automatically suspended under the implied consent statute, S.C. Code
Ann. § 56-5-2950 (Supp. 1996). Because the arresting officer did not
appear at the administrative hearing, the hearing officer rescinded
petitioner's automatic suspension.
Prior to petitioner's DUI trial, petitioner moved to suppress
evidence regarding his refusal to take the breathalyzer test. The trial
judge ruled collateral estoppel applied and held evidence petitioner refused
the breathalyzer should be suppressed based upon the administrative
hearing and subsequent dismissal of the automatic suspension. The State
immediately appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed.
Did the Court of Appeals err in holding the trial
judge erroneously suppressed petitioner's refusal
to take the breathalyzer?
Under § 56-5-2950, a defendant may request a hearing to
determine whether the defendant was placed under arrest, was info=ed
that he could refuse the test whereupon his driving privileges would be
suspended, and actually refused to take the test. If a hearing is requested
the ninety-day suspension does not begin until after the hearing and the
suspension is sustained.
The Court of Appeals relied upon its decision in Shelton v.
Oscar Mayer Foods Corp., 319 S.C. 81, 459 S.E.2d 851 (Ct. App. 1995),
and held collateral estoppel did not apply to administrative hearings held
pursuant § 56-5-2950. In Shelton, the issue was whether an
administrative finding of the Employment Security Commission (ESC) was
binding in the employee's subsequent wrongful termination suit. Based
upon the limited nature of the ESC's hearing, the Court of Appeals held
the ESC's findings were not binding. We reviewed the Court of Appeals'
decision in Shelton and affirmed. Shelton v. Oscar Mayer Foods Corp ,
325 S.C. 248, 481 S.E.2d 706 (1997). We agreed the nature of the ESC's
hearing was limited and the ESC's findings should not be used as
collateral estoppel in a subsequent civil action. In Shelton, we held if an
issue decided at the ESC hearing could be used against an employer in a
subsequent action, the hearing would become a full-blown trial on the
issue of termination defeating the purpose which is to quickly provide an
unemployed person some income.
We have previously adopted the general rule of collateral
estoppel as set forth in the Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 27 (1982)
in South Carolina Prop. & Cas. Ins. Guar. Ass'n v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.,
304 S.C. 210, 403 S.E.2d 625 (1991). Section 27 states: "When an issue of
fact or law is actually litigated and determined by a valid and final
judgment, and the determination is essential to the judgment, the
determination is conclusive in a subsequent action between the parties,
whether on the same or different claim." See also Palm v. General
Painting Co., Inc., 302 S.C. 372, 396 S.E.2d 361 (1990)(citations
omitted)("Under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, . . . the second action
is based upon a different claim and the judgment in the first action
precludes relitigation of only those issues actually and necessarily litigated
in the first suit."').
In the context of a default judgment, collateral estoppel or
issue preclusion does not apply because an essential element of that
doctrine requires that the claim sought to be precluded actually have been
litigated in the earlier litigation. 50 C.J.S Judgments § 797 (1997). Thus,
here, the license revocation hearing would not preclude the introduction of
evidence regarding petitioner's refusal to take the breathalyzer because the
issue was never actually litigated in the administrative proceeding. See
State v. Lewry, 550 A.2d 64 (Me. 1988)(order entered by default in license
suspension proceeding has no collateral effect in prosecution for DUI since
the order was not the result of actual litigation on the issue on the
merits); State v. Purvis, 739 S.W.2d 589 (Mo.App. 1987)(to be barred by
collateral estoppel an issue must have been actually litigated as
distinguished from a judgment rendered upon some preliminary or
technical point, or by default and without trial).
Even had the issue actually been litigated, we hold collateral
estoppel does not apply to issues decided at administrative hearings held
pursuant to § 56-5-2950. The doctrine of collateral estoppel is intended to
reduce litigation and conserve the resources of the court and litigants and
it is based upon the notion that it is unfair to permit a party to relitigate
an issue that has already been decided. Since it is grounded upon
concepts of fairness, it should not be rigidly or mechanically applied. In re
Juan C., 89 N.Y.2d 659, 679 N.E.2d 1061, 657 N.Y.S.2d 581 (1997). See
also 50 C.J.S. Judgments § 779 (1997). Thus, even if all the requirements
of issue preclusion are met, when unfairness or injustice results or public
policy requires it, the doctrine's application may be precluded. Id.
Section 28 of the Restatement (Second) of Judgments (1982),
which we also adopted in South Carolina Prop. & Cas. Ins. Guar. Ass'n. v.
Wal-Mart Stores, supra, provides, in pertinent part:
Although an issue is actually litigated and determined
by a valid and final judgment, and the determination
is essential to the judgment, relitigation of the issue
in a subsequent action between the parties is not
precluded in the following circumstances:
(3) A new determination of the issue is warranted
by differences in the quality or extensiveness of
the procedures followed in the two courts or by
factors relating to the allocation of jurisdiction
between them . . .
(5) There is a clear and convincing need for a new
determination of the issue (a) because of the potential
adverse impact of the determination on the public
interest or the interests of persons not themselves
parties in the initial action, (b) because it was not
sufficiently foreseeable at the time of the initial
action that the issue would arise in the context
of a subsequent action, or (c) because the party
sought to be precluded, as a result of the
conduct of the adversary or other special
circumstances, did not have an adequate
opportunity or incentive to obtain a full and
fair adjudication in the initial action.
In State v. Williams, 76 Ohio St.3d 290, 667 N.E.2d 932
(1996), the Ohio Supreme Court held that pursuant to § 28 (3) and (5) of
the Restatement, an administrative license revocation proceeding does not
preclude litigation of the same issue in a criminal prosecution. The court
pointed out the limited nature of the administrative proceeding and its
informality and also relied upon the adverse impact that collateral
estoppel would have in the criminal proceedings if it were allowed (i.e. the
State would be forced to treat the administrative hearing as an initial and
essential part of the criminal trial).
Other jurisdictions have similarly held the state does not have
a full and fair opportunity to litigate issues during a license revocation
proceeding, and it would be unfair to preclude the state from litigating
such issues during a subsequent criminal trial. See People v. Moore, 138
Ill.2d 162, 561 N.E.2d 648 (1990); People v. Lalka, 113 Misc.2d 474, 449
N.Y.S.2d 579 (1982). We agree with the reasoning applied in these cases.
The summary nature of the typical license revocation hearing makes
determinations from such a hearing inappropriate for the application of
collateral estoppel. Moore, supra.
Moreover, if every license revocation hearing carries with it
potential collateral estoppel impact on a subsequent criminal action, the
State may feel compelled to intervene in every administrative action to
effectively protect its interests in some future criminal proceeding. The
net effect would be to slow down what should be a summary
administrative proceeding designed to handle license revocation matters
quickly. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals' decision is
FINNEY, C.J., TOAL, WALLER and BURNETT, JJ., concur.