Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, April 18, 2022


Page 1


Court of Appeal:

DMV’s License-Revocation Hearings Run Unconstitutionally

Due Process Is Violated Where One Person Acts Both As Hearing Officer and Advocate; Remand Is

Ordered for Determination As to Whether $2.1 Million Attorney Fee Award Should Be Boosted


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The Court of Appeal for this district on Friday declared unconstitutional the system under which one person acts as both the hearing officer and an advocate for the Department of Motor Vehicles at a hearing to determine if the driver’s license of a person arrested for drunk driving should be suspended.

“[W]e conclude combining the roles of advocate and adjudicator in a single person employed by the DMV violates due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and the California constitution Article I, section 7,” Justice Brian S. Currey said in an opinion for Div. Four.

He also proclaimed that Vehicle Code §14112(b) “is unconstitutional to the extent it permits the DMV to combine the advocacy and adjudicatory roles in a single…hearing officer.”

$2.1 Million Award

The opinion creates the prospect that plaintiffs California DUI Lawyers Association (“CDLA”) and attorney Steven R. Mandell, which received an attorney fee award in the amount of $2,123,591 based on a narrow victory in their action for declaratory relief will be granted a greater amount n remand based on its sweeping victory in the appeals court. A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge had found in favor of CDLA and Mandell only to the extent of holding that interference by DMV managers with hearing officers’ decisions violates California’s due process clause and constitutes waste in contravention of Code of Civil Procedure §526a. However, she found in favor of the DMV on the cause of action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, a civil rights statute, saying:

“As a matter of law, the DMV hearing officer’s dual role as advocate for the DMV and trier of fact does not violate due process.”

Complete Victory

Contradicting that conclusion, Currey said that “CDLA was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on each of its causes of action,” explaining:

“…Although procedural fairness does not prohibit the combination of the advocacy and adjudicatory functions within a single administrative agency, tasking the same individual with both roles violates the minimum constitutional standards of due process.”

He said there is an “irreconcilable conflict between advocating for the agency on one hand, and being an impartial decisionmaker on the other,”

Currey noted that the DMV acknowledges that the DMV is a party to a license-revocation hearing, “the hearing is adversarial, and the hearing officer’s role involves both advocating on behalf of the DMV and acting as fact finder.”

Although the plaintiffs might not have shown bias, he noted, “is not dispositive.”

Additional Fee Prospect

Addressing the amount of attorney fees, awarded under the private attorney general doctrine, the jurist said:

“[W]e conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining the attorneys’ fee award. In light of CDLA’s additional success on appeal, however, we remand the matter to the trial court to reevaluate the amount of fees awarded to CDLA (but express no opinion whether such fees should be increased), and to calculate the amount of fees CDLA incurred on appeal.”

The case is California DUI Lawyers Association v. California Department of Motor Vehicles, B305604.

Robert S. Gerstein, Joshua C. Needle, Carlton Fields, Ellyn S. Garofalo and Amir Kaltgrad represented the plaintiffs and Deputy Attorney General Jacqueline H. Chern acted for the DMV.


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