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Prendergast. v. Commissioner of Motor Vehicles

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 25, 2017

HART PRENDERGAST
v.
COMMISSIONER OF MOTOR VEHICLES

          Argued January 5, 2017

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New Britain, Schuman, J.

          Malaina J. Sylvestre, certified legal intern, with whom was Kristi Thomaston, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Christine Jean-Louis, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, was George Jepsen, attorney general, for the appellee (defendant).

          Lavine, Keller and Pellegrino, Js.

          OPINION

          PELLEGRINO, J.

         The plaintiff, Hart Prendergast, appeals from the judgment of the Superior Court dismissing his appeal from the decision of the defendant, the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, suspending his license to operate a motor vehicle pursuant to General Statutes § 14-227b. The plaintiff claims that the court improperly (1) found that there was substantial evidence in the record to support a finding that there was probable cause to arrest him for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or intoxicating liquor or drugs, and (2) concluded that his due process rights were not violated when the hearing officer continued the hearing to subpoena the police officers involved in the plaintiff's arrest. We affirm the judgment of the court.

         The following facts are relevant to our disposition of this appeal. On March 27, 2015, at approximately 10:46 p.m., Trooper Josue J. Dorelus of the state police responded to a two car collision on the southbound side of Route 15 near exit sixty-one in Hamden. While responding, he learned that one of the vehicles had left the scene of the accident. Upon arrival, Dorelus observed damage to the right side of the remaining vehicle. The operator of the vehicle told Dorelus that his vehicle was sideswiped by what he believed to be a blue sedan.

         Shortly before midnight that night, Hamden police received a call about a suspicious vehicle on Marietta Street in Hamden. The caller had seen the car ‘‘come in and park.'' Hamden police responded and observed the car with four flat tires, parked in the middle of the road with the operator asleep at the wheel.

         When Hamden police put out a dispatch about the vehicle, the state police responded, and the officers concluded that they had located a vehicle matching the description of the evading vehicle from the earlier accident on Route 15. Dorelus received a state police dispatch about the matter at 12:11 a.m. At approximately 12:30 a.m., Dorelus arrived at the scene, which was the intersection of Marietta Street and Dixwell Avenue in Hamden, a location immediately off Route 15. Upon Dorelus' arrival, Hamden police informed him that they had found a blue Nissan Altima that appeared to have been in a recent collision. They added that the operator, who appeared to be incapacitated and under the influence of alcohol, was sitting in the driver's seat with the key fob in his pocket. The motor, however, was not running at the time.

         Dorelus observed that the damage to the vehicle was consistent with the description provided by the accident victim. The car was in a stopped position facing southbound. The person in the operator's seat, later identified as the plaintiff, told Dorelus that he was traveling from Meriden and arrived at the location. Dorelus observed that the plaintiff had ‘‘a disheveled appearance'' and had vomit on the collar of his jacket. As the plaintiff spoke, Dorelus detected an odor of alcohol emanating from his breath, and his eyes appeared to be bloodshot and glassy.

         The plaintiff subsequently failed one standardized field sobriety test and declined to take two others. At approximately 12:45 a.m., Dorelus placed the plaintiff under arrest for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. At the police station, the plaintiff verbally refused to submit to a breath test for alcohol.

         On May 6 and May 27, 2015, the Department of Motor Vehicles conducted a hearing to determine whether to suspend the plaintiff's license pursuant to § 14-227b.[1]On May 27, 2015, the hearing officer rendered a written decision finding that the plaintiff was operating a motor vehicle, that there was probable cause to arrest the plaintiff for operating under the influence, and that the plaintiff refused to submit to a chemical test. On the basis of these findings, as well as the fact that the plaintiff had a prior license suspension, the hearing officer suspended the plaintiff's license for one year. See General Statutes § 14-227b (i) (2) (C).

         The plaintiff appealed from the decision of the hearing officer to the court pursuant to General Statutes § 4-183. On appeal, the plaintiff challenged the hearing officer's findings (1) that the police officers had probable cause to arrest him for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, and (2) that he was operating the motor vehicle. The plaintiff claimed that the administrative record lacked substantial evidence to support these findings. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that his right to due process of law was violated when the hearing officer, over the plaintiff's objection, continued the hearing in order to subpoena the ...


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