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Jarvis v. Kansas Department of Revenue

Court of Appeals of Kansas

May 10, 2019

Nathan A. Jarvis, Appellee,
v.
Kansas Department of Revenue, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         1. An appellate court generally reviews a district court's decision in a driver's license suspension case to determine whether it is supported by substantial competent evidence. Substantial competent evidence is evidence that has both relevance and substance, and provides a substantial basis of fact from which the issues can be reasonably resolved.

         2. In reviewing a district court's factual findings, appellate courts do not reweigh evidence, resolve evidentiary conflicts, or make witness credibility determinations.

         3. Based on the record herein, there is substantial competent evidence to support the district court's finding that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop that resulted in an administrative driver's license suspension.

         4. Interpretation of a statute is a question of law over which appellate courts have unlimited review.

         5. The most fundamental rule of statutory construction is that the intent of the Legislature governs if that intent can be ascertained. An appellate court must first attempt to ascertain legislative intent through the statutory language enacted, giving common words their ordinary meanings.

         6. When a statute is plain and unambiguous, an appellate court should not speculate about the legislative intent behind that clear language, and it should refrain from reading something into the statute that is not readily found in its words. Where there is no ambiguity, the court need not resort to statutory construction. Only if the statute's language or text is unclear or ambiguous does the court use canons of construction or legislative history to construe legislative intent.

         7. Under K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 8-1020(p), on judicial review of the administrative suspension of a person's driver's license, the district court can consider and determine constitutional issues, such as the lawfulness of the law enforcement encounter, and the court's resolution of such an issue will affect its ultimate decision whether to uphold the driver's license suspension.

         8. Based on legislative intent expressed through statute, the district court can consider and determine constitutional issues in a driver's license suspension case in order to decide whether the agency action should be upheld, and the judicially created exclusionary rule plays no part in the district court's decision.

          Appeal from Johnson District Court; James F. Vano, judge.

          Joanna Labastida, of Legal Services Bureau, Kansas Department of Revenue, for appellant.

          Sheena Foye, of Wyrsch Hobbs & Mirakian P.C., of Kansas City, Missouri, for appellee

          Before ARNOLD-BURGER, C.J., PIERRON and MALONE, JJ.

          MALONE, J.

         The Kansas Department of Revenue (KDR) suspended Nathan A. Jarvis' driver's license after he refused to submit to a breath test. On judicial review, the district court found that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Jarvis' car. Based on this finding, the district court ruled that K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 8-1020(p) "justifies reversal of the administrative suspension of [Jarvis'] driving privileges." On appeal the KDR first claims the district court erred by finding that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Jarvis' car. Second, the KDR claims that even if the car stop was unlawful, the district court erred by applying the exclusionary rule to suppress the evidence in this administrative driver's license suspension case.

         Based on our review of the record, there was sufficient evidence to support the district court's finding that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Jarvis' car. And we agree with the district court that on judicial review of the administrative suspension of a person's driver's license, K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 8-1020(p) now authorizes the district court to "consider and determine any constitutional issue, including, but not limited to, the lawfulness of the law enforcement encounter." Based on the district court's finding that the officer unlawfully stopped Jarvis' car, we affirm the district court's decision to set aside the administrative suspension of Jarvis' driving privileges.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On February 6, 2017, Officer Matthew Hirsch of the Merriam Police Department arrested Jarvis for driving under the influence (DUI). Hirsch read the implied consent advisories to Jarvis and he refused to submit to a breath test, resulting in the KDR's administrative suspension of Jarvis' driving privileges. Jarvis requested an administrative hearing and the hearing officer upheld the suspension. Jarvis filed a petition for judicial review, arguing in part that Hirsch had "no lawful grounds to stop [Jarvis'] vehicle" and also that Hirsch had "no reasonable grounds to believe [Jarvis] was operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs."

         The district court held a trial de novo and Hirsch was the only witness to testify. Hirsch told the court that he stopped Jarvis around 1:45 a.m. after he saw him swerving in his lane and crossing the center line of the road. Hirsch explained the road Jarvis was on had no painted center line, but if it had been there, Jarvis would have crossed it. He said he also saw Jarvis almost hit a mailbox, although he did not include this fact in his report. Hirsch testified that he pulled Jarvis over, intending to give him a warning for swerving and crossing the center line. But as Hirsch spoke with Jarvis, he saw that his eyes were bloodshot, and he smelled alcohol on his breath. Jarvis admitted he had drunk one beer.

         Hirsch asked Jarvis to exit his vehicle and he conducted several field sobriety tests. Jarvis successfully performed the "finger-to-nose" and "alphabet" tests. But according to Hirsch, Jarvis failed the walk-and-turn test and showed clues of impairment on the one-leg-stand test. Jarvis refused a preliminary breath test. Hirsch arrested Jarvis for DUI and took him to the Merriam Police Department. There, Hirsch asked Jarvis to submit to an evidentiary breath test, but Jarvis refused. Jarvis later asked about the possibility of taking a blood test, but Hirsch did not administer one.

         The video recording from Hirsch's patrol car was played at the hearing and introduced as an exhibit. Hirsch testified that he manually started the video, and he would have done so after seeing a traffic infraction. After watching the video in court, Hirsch said he saw two lane violations, but he could not specify when they had occurred in the video. After hearing the evidence, the district court took the matter under advisement and asked the parties to submit posttrial briefs.

         On February 9, 2018, the district court filed a 13-page memorandum decision reversing Jarvis' driver's license suspension. The district court began by addressing whether Hirsch had reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop and, on that issue, the district court found that Hirsch's testimony was not credible. The district court noted that Hirsch claimed to have seen Jarvis commit a traffic violation on an unlaned road, but when the video started, Jarvis was on a laned road. The district court also noted that Hirsch testified he made a complete and accurate report of the incident, but his report did not include his observation of Jarvis almost hitting a mailbox. The district court added that Hirsch was unable to pinpoint any traffic violations on the video. The district court found that the video did not show Jarvis' car weaving any more than Hirsch's car. The district court concluded by finding that Hirsch "articulated no credible reasonable suspicion justifying the stop and initial encounter."

         The district court then analyzed the effect of the 2016 amendment to K.S.A. 8-1020(p) on Jarvis' driver's license suspension case. The district court found that "[t]he Legislature has made it clear by the 2016 amendment that the initial police encounter is a justiciable issue" in a driver's license suspension case. The district court also found that the new statutory provision would be rendered "meaningless" if constitutional claims had no effect on the district court's decision whether to uphold a driver's license suspension. Based on its finding that Hirsch had no reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop, the ...


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