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Wells v. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

July 11, 2019

HERMAN E. WELLS
v.
THE LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONS, OFFICE OF MOTOR VEHICLES

          Appealed from the 21st Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Tangipahoa State of Louisiana Docket Number 2017-0003365 Honorable Robert H. Morrison, III, Judge Presiding

          Laura C. Hopes, Stephen A. Quidd, Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Defendant /Appellant The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Office of Motor Vehicles

          Joseph D. Lewis, New Orleans, LA Counsel for Plaintiff /Appellee Herman E. Wells

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., McCLENDON, HIGGINBOTHAM, THERIOT, AND CHUTZ, JJ.

          WHIPPLE, C.J.

         This matter is before us on appeal by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Office of Motor Vehicles ("OMV") from a June 7, 2018 judgment of the district court rendered on request for judicial review, ordering that the proposed suspension of Herman E. Wells's commercial driver's license be recalled and that the OMV reinstate his commercial driver's license, based upon the district court's finding that the OMV failed to prove sufficient grounds existed to suspend plaintiffs license. For the following reasons, we reverse the district court's judgment and reinstate the OMV's suspension and disqualification.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         While patrolling Highway 442 in Tangipahoa Parish on June 11, 2017, Nathanial Cooper, a deputy with the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriffs Office, observed a white commercial-grade truck parked five to ten feet off the roadway on the shoulder of the southbound side of Highway 442 near its intersection with Highway 51. Deputy Cooper observed that the truck was still running and approached the truck for further inspection. Upon closer inspection of the inside of the truck, Deputy Cooper discovered Herman E. Wells, whom Deputy Cooper identified at trial, laying across the front seat with the lights on, keys in the ignition, and the engine running. Eventually, Deputy Cooper was able to wake Mr. Wells and make contact with him, at which point Deputy Cooper noticed an obvious odor of alcohol on Mr. Wells' breath. Upon questioning by Deputy Cooper, Mr. Wells admitted that he had driven the truck from a family gathering in Independence, Louisiana after consuming multiple alcoholic beverages.

         Deputy Cooper contacted Bobby Guy, another deputy with the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriffs Office, requesting assistance in conducting field sobriety and breathalyzer tests, but he also conducted the horizontal gaze nystagmus test on Mr. Wells, during which he observed several signs of impairment.

         Deputy Guy later testified that when he arrived on the scene, Mr. Wells was outside of the truck and Deputy Cooper briefed him of the situation. During his investigation, Deputy Guy asked Mr. Wells whether he had been driving the truck prior to being arrested, and Mr. Wells replied that he drove the truck from his brother's house and pulled over to sleep. After conducting field sobriety tests, Deputy Guy arrested Mr. Wells for violation of LSA-R.S. 14;98, [1] driving while intoxicated ("DWI"). After being advised of his rights, Mr. Wells submitted to a breathalyzer test, the results of which showed a blood alcohol reading of 0.184 percent.

         As a result of his arrest for DWI, Mr. Wells's driver's license was surrendered, his personal license was suspended for ninety days in accordance with LSA-R.S. 32;667(B)(1)(b)[2] and his commercial driver's license was disqualified for one year in accordance with LSA-R.S. 32;414.2(A)(4)(a)(i).[3] After Mr. Wells timely requested an administrative hearing regarding the suspension of his license, the OMV's suspension was upheld. Mr. Wells then filed a request for judicial review of the administrative decision upholding the suspension. A trial was held on May 21, 2018, before the district court, and the only issue presented to the district court was whether the officer had reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Wells was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

         At trial, the OMV presented the testimony of both Deputy Cooper and Deputy Guy and others. At the conclusion of the OMV's case and before Mr. Wells was called to the stand by his counsel, the district court granted the relief requested by Mr. Wells, noting that from the evidence presented, it could not determine whether or not the area occupied by Mr. Wells was, in fact, a public highway. In accordance with the district court's finding, the district court signed a judgment recalling the proposed suspension of Mr. Wells's license and ordering the OMV to reinstate his commercial driver's license. The OMV then filed the instant appeal.

         DISCUSSION

         Pursuant to LSA-R.S. 32:667(A)(1), when a law enforcement officer places a person under arrest for violation of LSA-R.S. 14:98 and the person submits to an approved chemical test for intoxication, which results show a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or above by weight, the officer is required to seize the driver's license of the person under arrest and issue in its place a temporary receipt of license. If the person holds a commercial driver's license, ...


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