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2011-UP-177 - SCDMV v. Westfall

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.

Sharon Westfall, Respondent.


Appeal from the Administrative Law Court
John D. McLeod, Administrative Law Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2011-UP-177
Submitted April 1, 2011 – Filed April 19, 2011 


REVERSED AND REMANDED


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

Sharon Westfall, pro se, of Camden, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (the DMV) appeals the reinstatement of Sharon Westfall's driver's license by the Department of Motor Vehicle Hearings (the DMVH).  The DMV argues the administrative law court (the ALC) erred in (1) dismissing the DMV's appeal for failure to provide a sufficient record and (2) adopting the DMVH's order that allegedly misconstrued statutory law in reinstating the license.  We reverse and remand.[1]

The legislature has established "the standard of review when the court of appeals is sitting in review of a decision by the ALC on an appeal from an administrative agency."  S.C. Dep't of Motor Vehicles v. Holtzclaw, 382 S.C. 344, 347, 675 S.E.2d 756, 758 (Ct. App. 2009).  "The court of appeals may affirm the decision or remand the case for further proceedings . . . ."  S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-610 (Supp. 2010).  Moreover, it "may reverse or modify the decision . . . if . . . the decision is . . . characterized by an abuse of discretion . . . ."  Holtzclaw, 382 S.C. at 347, 675 S.E.2d at 758.

I.  Insufficient Record

The ALC dismissed the DMV's appeal for failure to provide a sufficient record, reasoning a fair review of the case was impossible because the record did not include a transcript of the testimony and the tape of the testimony in the administrative hearing was blank.  The DMV argues the ALC overlooked the duty of the DMVH to produce the record for the ALC's review.  We agree.

"An abuse of discretion occurs where the trial judge['s decision] was controlled by an error of law . . . ."  Law v. S.C. Dep't of Corrs., 368 S.C. 424, 438, 629 S.E.2d 642, 650 (2006) (internal quotation marks omitted).  In proceedings before the DMVH, "[t]ape recordings of all hearings will be made part of the record on appeal, . . . and copies will be provided to parties to those appeals at no charge."  S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-660 (Supp. 2007).  "Appeals from decisions of the [DMVH] must be taken to the [ALC] pursuant to the [ALC]'s appellate rules of procedure."  Id.  And "on its own motion, [the ALC] may dismiss an appeal for failure to comply with any of the rules of procedure for appeals . . . ."  Rule 38, SCALCR.  Under the ALC's procedural rules, the agency with possession of the record of the proceedings must file the record with the ALC and serve a copy on each party to the appeal.  Rule 35, SCALCR; Rule 36(A), SCALCR.  The record must include a transcript of the testimony.  Rule 36(B), SCALCR. 

Here, the ALC abused its discretion in dismissing the appeal with prejudice.  Although the ALC's procedural rules give the ALC broad discretion in dismissing appeals for failure to follow the rules, the ALC's dismissal of this appeal (1) was inconsistent with policy underlying the burden of providing sufficient records and (2) misconstrued the duties upon the parties.  Dismissals of appeals for failure to provide a sufficient record reflect the general policy that appellants have the duty to provide the record to the reviewing court.  Helms Realty, Inc. v. Gibson-Wall Co., 363 S.C. 334, 339, 611 S.E.2d 485, 488-89 (2005).  However, in appeals from the DMVH, the DMV has neither a duty to tape the proceedings nor a duty to file a transcript with the ALC.  Both of those duties fall upon the DMVH, and in this case, the DMVH breached those duties.  Therefore, the ALC's dismissal of this case for failure to comply with a duty placed upon a nonparty is an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, we remand the case to the ALC to reconstruct the record and address the merits.

II.   Construction of Statutory Law

The DMV argues the ALC's decision to uphold and adopt the DMVH's order should be reversed because the DMVH erroneously considered whether Westfall was notified that her insurance had lapsed before the accident and whether she was at fault in the accident.  Because we reverse and remand the case on the first issue, we need not address this argument.  See Bailey v. S.C. Dep't of Health & Envtl. Control, 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.

FEW, C.J., THOMAS and KONDUROS, JJ., concur. 


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