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Michel v. State

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit

November 3, 2014

NATHAN E. MICHEL
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA, DIVISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW

Page 655

On Appeal from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court, In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana. No. 616,935. Honorable Todd W. Hernandez, Judge Presiding.

Glynn J. Delatte, Jr., Stephen R. Edwards, Jr., Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellee, Nathan E. Michel.

Cynthia G. Eyre, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Counsel for Defendant/Appellant, Louisiana Division of Administrative Law.

BEFORE: PETTIGREW, McDONALD, McCLENDON, WELCH, AND THERIOT, JJ. McCLendon, J., dissent for reasons assigned. Pettigrew, J., Concurs in part and dissent in part for the Reasons Assigned by Judge McCLendon.

OPINION

Page 656

[2013 1419 La.App. 1 Cir. 2] McDONALD, J.

The Division of Administrative Law appeals a district court judgment granting declaratory relief that prohibited it, in an administrative proceeding, from denying an individual the opportunity to subpoena all law enforcement officers involved in his stop, detention, investigation, and arrest for driving while intoxicated. For the following reasons, we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 6, 2012, Nathan Michel was stopped and arrested for allegedly driving while intoxicated. The arresting officer seized Mr. Michel's license and issued him a " temporary license." The document informed Mr. Michel that he had fifteen days to request an administrative hearing to

Page 657

contest the proposed suspension of his license. The document also informed Mr. Michel that he could have subpoenas issued to require the relevant law enforcement officers to appear at the administrative hearing.

Mr. Michel, in accordance with LSA-R.S. 32:668, timely requested an administrative hearing with the Division of Administrative Law (DAL).[1] On September 21, 2012, Mr. Michel requested that the DAL issue a subpoena requiring the arresting officer to appear at the administrative hearing. The DAL advised Mr. Michel that the subpoena he requested could not be issued because Act 559 of the 2012 Regular Session of the Legislature, which became effective on August 1, 2012, amended LSA-R.S. 32:668 to provide that " no law enforcement officer shall be compelled ... to appear or testify" at DAL suspension hearings.

In response, Mr. Michel averred that DAL unconstitutionally applied Act 559 in a retroactive manner, asserting that the operative facts all pre-dated [2013 1419 La.App. 1 Cir. 3] the August 1, 2012 effective date of Act 559. DAL reiterated that it would not issue the subpoena, indicating that it would " enforc[e] the statute as of the effective date by not issuing subpoenas compelling law enforcement officers to appear in the Implied Consent hearings on and after the effective date."

Mr. Michel subsequently filed a " Petition for Injunctive Relief, Declaratory Judgment and Motion for Temporary Restraining Order" in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court. Mr. Michel asserted that DAL unconstitutionally applied Act 559 retroactively, and he sought a declaratory judgment to that effect. In opposition, DAL filed peremptory and dilatory exceptions. DAL asserted that the district court had no jurisdiction to consider the merits of Mr. Michel's petition because Mr. Michel had not requested the court to declare Act 559 unconstitutional. DAL also asserted that Mr. Michel's petition was premature because he had not first exhausted his administrative remedies.

On May 28, 2013, the district court issued a declaratory judgment, ruling that Act 559 " ...does not apply to those arrested and ... who requested an administrative hearing prior to the effective date of the Act, August 1, 2012. . . ." The declaratory judgment also enjoined DAL " from denying Nathan E. Michel the opportunity to subpoena all law enforcement officers involved in his stop, detention, investigation, and arrest."

DAL has appealed, asserting that the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to issue a declaratory judgment and that Mr. Michel had not exhausted his administrative remedies prior to seeking review in the district court. DAL also urges that it did not apply Act 559 retroactively, but applied it as written at the time the subpoena was [2013 1419 La.App. 1 Cir. 4] requested. In the alternative, DAL submits that Act 559 was procedural such that it could be applied retroactively.

DISCUSSION

Jurisdiction over the subject matter is the legal power and authority of a court to hear and determine a particular class of actions or proceedings, based upon the object of the demand, the amount in dispute, or the value of the right asserted. LSA-C.C.P. art. 2. Except as otherwise

Page 658

authorized by the Louisiana constitution, a district court shall have original jurisdiction of all civil and criminal matters. LSA-Const. art. V, § 16.

DAL contends that the district court, absent a constitutional challenge to a provision of the Louisiana Tests for Suspected Drunken Drivers Law, La. R.S. 32:661-670, did not have subject matter jurisdiction to issue a declaratory judgment. We note, however, that the district court cannot be held to lack subject matter jurisdiction in the absence of constitutional authority expressly granting exclusive jurisdiction to an administrative agency or other tribunal. LSA-Const. art. V, § 16, Paulsell v. State, Dept. of Transp. and Dev., 12-0396 (La.App. 1 Cir. 12/28/12), 112 So.3d 856, 861, writ denied, 13-0274 (La. 3/15/13), 109 So.3d 386. DAL has pointed to no constitutional authority divesting the district courts of original subject matter jurisdiction in this instance. Cf. Duplantis v. Louisiana Bd. of Ethics, 00-1750 (La. ...


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