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2011-UP-107 - SCDMV v. Gibbs

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE. IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, Appellant,

v.

Dominic Vladimir Gibbs, Respondent.


Appeal from the Administrative Law Court
Deborah Brooks Durden, Administrative Law Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2011-UP-107
Submitted March 1, 2011 – March  16, 2011


REVERSED AND REMANDED


General Counsel Frank L. Valenta, Jr., Deputy General Counsel Philip S. Porter, and Assistant General Counsel Linda A. Grice, all of Blythewood, for Appellant.

Dominic V. Gibbs, pro se, of Anderson, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  The Department of Motor Vehicles (the DMV) appeals the reinstatement of Dominic Gibbs's driver's license by the Administrative Law Court (the ALC).  Gibbs did not file a respondent’s brief.  We reverse and remand.[1]

The ALC held the DMV improperly declared Gibbs a habitual offender because one of Gibbs' three driving under suspension convictions could not support habitual offender status.  The ALC ruled the offense fell under a statutory exception that precluded basing habitual offender status upon convictions of driving under suspension for the failure to file proof of financial responsibility.  The DMV argues the relevant conviction of driving under suspension did not fall within that exception because the suspension was based upon a different offense: the failure to show proof of insurance when stopped by a police officer.  We agree.

When this court reviews an ALC's decision on appeal from the DMV, this court may reverse or modify the decision if the decision is affected by an error of law.  S.C. Dep't of Motor Vehicles v. Holtzclaw, 382 S.C. 344, 347, 675 S.E.2d 756, 758 (Ct. App. 2009).  The supreme court has focused on the plain language of the habitual offender statute when construing its meaning.  S.C. Dep't of Motor Vehicles v. Blackwell, 389 S.C. 293, 296, 698 S.E.2d 770, 772 (2010).  Under that statute, the DMV may declare a person a habitual offender if the person has been convicted of three or more qualifying offenses committed within a three-year period.  S.C. Code Ann. § 56-1-1020(a) (2006).  Those qualifying offenses include driving under suspension, "except a conviction for driving under suspension for failure to file proof of financial responsibility . . . ."  § 56-1-1020(a)(4). 

Here, we hold the ALC erred in treating Gibbs's conviction of driving under suspension for failure to show proof of insurance to a police officer as the same offense as a conviction of driving under suspension for failure to file proof of financial responsibility.  The habitual offender statute's exception refers to various sections of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Act requiring a person to file a certificate of insurance or bond with the DMV.  See S.C. Code Ann. § 56-9-540 to -570 (2006) ("Proof of financial responsibility when required . . . may be given by filing [with the DMV]: (1) [a] certificate of insurance . . . [or] (2) [a] bond . . . ."); see also S.C. Code Ann. § 56-9-361, -460 (2006) (providing that the DMV may allow a suspended driver to keep a license to operate a vehicle owned by an employer if the employer "furnishe[s] proof of financial responsibility . . ."); S.C. Code Ann. § 56-9-440, -470 (2006) (providing that if a judgment creditor of a motor vehicle accident consents, the judgment debtor who was uninsured at the time of the accident may retain driving privileges so long as the judgment debtor "furnishes proof of financial responsibility," and if the judgment creditor does not so consent, the judgment debtor's license will remain suspended until the debtor fully satisfies every judgment and "gives proof of financial responsibility . . ."); S.C. Code Ann. § 56-10-540 (2006) ("Whenever any proof of financial responsibility filed by any person as required by [the Act] no longer fulfills the purpose for which required, the director shall require other proof of financial responsibility . . . .").  

Unlike those sections, the statute for the failure to show a police officer proof of insurance is a different offense from the failure to file proof of financial responsibility with the DMV.  See S.C. Code Ann. § 56-10-225(A)-(B) (2006) (providing "[a] person whose application for registration and licensing of a motor vehicle has been approved by the [DMV] must maintain in the motor vehicle at all times proof that the motor vehicle is an insured vehicle" and "[t]he owner of a motor vehicle must maintain proof of financial responsibility in the motor vehicle at all times, and it must be displayed upon demand of a police officer . . .").  Therefore, the habitual offender statute's exception does not apply to a conviction for driving under suspension for failure to show proof of insurance to a police officer.  The ALC erred in holding Gibbs's conviction could not support the DMV's declaration that he was a habitual offender. 

Because we reverse the ALC on the above issue, we do not address the DMV's remaining arguments.  See Bailey v. S.C. Dep't of Health, 388 S.C. 1, 8, 693 S.E.2d 426, 430 (Ct. App. 2010) (holding that an appellate court need not address remaining issues when a decision on a prior issue is dispositive). 

REVERSED AND REMANDED.

HUFF, SHORT, and PIEPER, JJ., concur.


[1] We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.