Kenneth D. Donley, appellant/petitioner below (hereinafter referred to as Mr. Donley) appeals an order of the Circuit Court of Mercer County affirming, in part, an order by Roger Pritt, Commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles, appellee/respondent below (hereinafter referred to as the Commissioner), that revoked Mr. Donley's driver's license. (See footnote 1) Here, Mr. Donley contends that the proceeding to revoke his license was untimely and therefore in violation of the statute of limitations and due process. (See footnote 2) After reviewing the briefs and listening to the arguments of the parties, we affirm.
receiving the abstract of judgment, the Commissioner issued an initial order
of driver's license revocation to Mr. Donley on December 11, 2001. Thereafter
on December 18, 2001, Mr. Donley requested a hearing with the Commissioner to
challenge the revocation. In response to the request, the Commissioner notified
Mr. Donley that a hearing would be scheduled for March 25, 2002. On March 4,
2002, the Commissioner informed Mr. Donley that the hearing would be continued
until September 9, 2002, because a hearing examiner was not available for the
date originally set. The hearing eventually took place before a hearing examiner
on the rescheduled date. Subsequently, the Commissioner, adopting the recommendation
of the hearing examiner, revoked Mr. Donley's drivers license for a period of
ten years, effective September 9, 2003.
Mr. Donley appealed the Commissioner's revocation order to the circuit court. During that appeal, Mr. Donley argued that the revocation was invalid because the hearing before the Commissioner took place after the statute of limitations had run and in violation of due process. The circuit court, by order entered October 26, 2004, affirmed the Commissioner's order with respect to the ten year revocation, but vacated the effective date and replaced it with an effective date of October 1, 1998. Mr. Donley filed this appeal from the circuit court's order.
On appeal of an administrative order from a circuit court, this Court is bound
by the statutory standards contained in W. Va. Code § 29A-5-4(a) and reviews
questions of law presented de novo; findings of fact by the administrative
officer are accorded deference unless the reviewing court believes the findings
to be clearly wrong.
2. In cases where the circuit court has amended the result before the administrative agency, this Court reviews the final order of the circuit court and the ultimate disposition by it of an administrative law case under an abuse of discretion standard and reviews questions of law de novo.
With these principles in view, we examine the issues presented.
case of Dolin v. Roberts, 173 W. Va. 443, 317 S.E.2d 802 (1984), we addressed
the issue of a twenty-week delay between a motorist's arrest for DUI and the
suspension of his license. In Dolin, the arresting officer submitted an
affidavit of the motorist's arrest to the Commissioner within twenty-four hours,
as required by W. Va. Code § 17C-5A-1(b). (See
footnote 6) As a result of technical problems with the officer's
affidavit, the Commissioner did not notify the motorist of the suspension of
his license until some twenty weeks after the arrest. The motorist subsequently
obtained a writ of prohibition from a circuit court that prevented the Commissioner
from holding a hearing to finalize the suspension. The circuit court found that
the delay, among other things, violated the motorist's due process rights. The
Commissioner appealed the decision. We reversed. In doing so, this Court applied
principles developed in criminal law. Specifically, we held in Dolin that '[t]he
effect of less gross delays upon a defendant's due process rights must be determined
by a trial court by weighing the reasons for delay against the impact of the
delay upon the defendant's ability to defend himself.' Syl. pt. 2, Dolin (quoting
Syl. pt. 2, State ex rel. Leonard v. Hey, 269 S.E.2d 394 (W. Va. 1980)).
In Dolin the motorist failed to establish any prejudice by the delay in
his suspension. We believe that Dolin's lack of
prejudice by a delay applies to the facts of this case.
We first note that the statute authorizing a magistrate court clerk to forward an abstract of a DUI conviction to the Commissioner contains no time limit within which this task must be accomplished. Pursuant to W. Va. Code § 17C-5A-1a (2004), the magistrate court shall forward the transcript when the person convicted has not requested an appeal within twenty days of the sentencing for such conviction. Although this statute does not provide a time limit in which to send an abstract of a conviction to the Commissioner, we believe that principles of due process would impose a reasonable time limit. We need not set any specific time limit for W. Va. Code § 17C-5A-1a, because we believe that a delay of nearly three years, when no appeal is taken, is unreasonable as a matter of law.
Although we have found that the delay was unreasonable in this case, Mr. Donley is still not entitled to relief because no prejudice flowed from the delay. The record clearly demonstrates that Mr. Donley pled guilty to second offense DUI. Consequently, the only issue at the administrative hearing was whether Mr. Donley was the person named in the abstract. (See footnote 7) The evidence established this single issue. Insofar as no other factual matters were litigated, Mr. Donley has failed to show any prejudice stemming from the delay in forwarding the abstract to the Commissioner. Moreover, because the circuit court vacated the Commissioner's effective date of revocation, the delay of nearly three years in forwarding the abstract of judgment is simply inconsequential.