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Ives v. Commissioner of Motor Vehicles

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

September 10, 2019


          Argued February 13, 2019

         Procedural History

         Appeal from the decision of the defendant suspending the plaintiff's license to operate a motor vehicle and requiring the installation of an ignition interlock device on the plaintiff's vehicle, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain and tried to the court, Gleeson, J.; judgment dismissing the appeal; thereafter, the court denied the plaintiff's motion to reargue or for reconsideration, and the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Christopher Thompson, with whom was Gregory Thompson, for the appellant (plaintiff).

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

          Sheldon, Elgo and Lavery, Js. [*]


          ELGO, J.

         The plaintiff, Robert P. Ives, appeals from the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the defendant, the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles (commissioner), dismissing his appeal from the decision of the commissioner to suspend his motor vehicle operator's license, pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 2015) § 14-227b, [1] for forty-five days and to require that he install and maintain an ignition interlock device in his motor vehicle for six months.[2] On appeal, the plaintiff claims that (1) the court erred in concluding that, in light of a 2009 amendment to § 14-227b (j), blood test results need not satisfy the conditions for admissibility and competence set forth in General Statutes § 14-227a (k) to be admissible in an administrative license suspension hearing, and (2) the introduction of blood test results derived from his blood sample without satisfying the admissibility conditions set forth in § 14-227a (k) is unconstitutional. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, as set forth in the trial court's order rendering a judgment of dismissal, and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. ‘‘On April 4, 2016, at about 8:30 p.m., the Southington Police Department responded to a complaint about a motor vehicle in a ditch. The complainant had reported that the operator of the vehicle smelled of alcohol. Officer [Ryan] Lair found the plaintiff's vehicle off of the roadway in a ditch near a damaged guardrail. He observed the plaintiff to be unsteady on his feet and saw him fall to the ground, losing a sneaker in the process. The plaintiff did not replace his sneaker upon standing and gave Officer Lair a blank stare. As the plaintiff was having trouble standing up on his own, Officer Lair assisted the plaintiff so that he would not fall again. During their conversation, the plaintiff's speech was slurred and mumbling. Officer Lair observed that the plaintiff's eyes were glassy and bloodshot and he smelled the odor of alcohol on [the] plaintiff's breath. In plain view in [the] plaintiff's vehicle was an almost empty 375 [milliliter] Jagermeister bottle as well as several unopened [twelve ounce] beers. [The] [p]laintiff stated that ‘he drank way too much tonight' and admitted to driving.

         ‘‘[The] [p]laintiff's belligerence with the paramedics who arrived to examine him was witnessed by fire department personnel. The paramedics and fire personnel informed Officer Lair that the plaintiff ‘appeared and smelled as if he was intoxicated.' [The] [p]laintiff was taken to a parking lot so that standard field sobriety tests could be administered by Lair and Officer [Jonathan] Lopa, but while there [the] plaintiff appeared to be dazed and continued to slur his speech and mumble. [The] [p]laintiff denied that he was a diabetic, but a blood sugar test administered by a paramedic resulted in a ‘borderline' number. [The] [p]laintiff at some point returned himself to the police cruiser and closed the door. When asked by Officer Lopa whether he had taken anything that night, [the] plaintiff became upset and agitated, exited the police cruiser, and physically assaulted Lopa. The officers then took the plaintiff down to the ground, which resulted in a small cut to [the] plaintiff's chin, as well as damage to the cruiser. As [the] plaintiff appeared to be incapacitated and blank faced, he was placed in the ambulance, whereupon he licked the female paramedic. [The] [p]laintiff was transported to Bradley Memorial Hospital for evaluation. Upon arrival, [the] plaintiff struck a male paramedic in the chest with his fist, after which both of his arms were handcuffed to his hospital bed. [The] [o]fficers learned that [the] plaintiff had struck both paramedics during the transport, one of whom had to sit on the plaintiff to control him. Hospital records indicate that [the] plaintiff was admitted because of [an] ‘altered mental status,' and [the] plaintiff's violent and bizarre behavior continued while hospitalized. [The] [p]laintiff tried to bite a nurse technician, and repeatedly tried to bite his handcuffs off and to bite his IV line. [The] [p]laintiff intermittently displayed a confused affect, repeatedly swore at police and hospital staff, and made obscene suggestions and lascivious displays. Officer Lair was informed by Dr. Richard Steinmark that [the] plaintiff's blood would be drawn by medical staff in the course of their normal medical duties. [The] [p]laintiff's blood was so drawn and he was given medical treatment by hospital staff before being discharged.

         ‘‘On April 28, 2016, Officer Lair sought and obtained a search and seizure warrant for [the] plaintiff's medical records, including toxicology results. Said toxicology results revealed a blood alcohol level that converted to 0.31, more than three times the legal limit. [The] [p]lain-tiff was arrested by warrant on May 27, 2016, for operating under the influence.'' Subsequently, the commissioner issued a notice advising the plaintiff of the proposed suspension of his license. On July 7, 2016, an administrative hearing was held at the Department of Motor Vehicles (department) to determine whether the plaintiff's license should be suspended pursuant to § 14-227b. At the hearing, Officer Lair testified to the contents of his police report detailing the events of the night of April 4, 2016. On the basis of the evidence presented at the hearing, the commissioner found that (1) Officer Lair had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drug or both, (2) the plaintiff was placed under arrest, (3) the plaintiff submitted to the test or analysis and the results indicated an elevated blood alcohol content, and (4) the plaintiff was operating the motor vehicle. Accordingly, the commissioner ordered the suspension of the plaintiff's license and required that an ignition interlock device be installed and maintained in the plaintiff's vehicle.

         On July 14, 2016, the plaintiff commenced an appeal of the commissioner's decision to the Superior Court. In his appeal, the plaintiff challenged the commissioner's findings that there was probable cause for his arrest for operating while under the influence and that he was operating a motor vehicle at that time. The plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint challenging the admissibility of the blood test results derived from the blood sample taken from him at the hospital under § 14-227b (j). On November 7, 2016, the defendant filed a request for remand and stay of appeal, in which he requested that the case be remanded to the department for further proceedings to determine whether the plaintiff's blood sample was obtained in accordance with the conditions for admissibility set forth in § 14-227a (k), pursuant to § 14-227b (j) (5). The court subsequently remanded the case to the department and retained jurisdiction pending the disposition of the case on remand. Among the facts supported by the evidence at the remand hearing and found by the commissioner to have been proven were that, in the opinion of Officer Lair, the plaintiff's post accident behavior warranted further evaluation and treatment, and, thus, required that he be transported to the hospital for that purpose. After hearing arguments from the parties as to the admissibility of the blood test results derived from the plaintiff's blood sample, the commissioner again ordered the suspension of the plaintiff's license, concluding that Officer Lair's ‘‘actions in requiring [the plaintiff] to be in need of treatment or observation at the hospital [were] consistent'' with the requirements set forth in § 14-227b (j), and that ‘‘the results of the blood sample were obtained by proper application for and issuance of a search and seizure warrant'' pursuant to § 14-227a (k).

         The plaintiff again appealed the commissioner's decision to the Superior Court, arguing that the blood test was inadmissible because the blood sample was not taken in accordance with § 14-227a (k), as required by § 14-227b (j) (5). Specifically, the plaintiff argued that ‘‘he had not suffered or allegedly suffered a physical injury in the accident, nor was the sample taken for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment of such an injury.'' The court rejected the plaintiff's argument, concluding that § 14-227a (k) governs the admissibility of chemical analyses of blood samples in criminal proceedings, ‘‘but is not applicable in the same way to administrative hearings'' such as the one in the present case. The court then looked to the language of § 14-227b (j), which governs administrative proceedings, and concluded that ‘‘the language of § 14-227b (j) in question is plain and unambiguous, '' and that ‘‘there was substantial evidence in the record to support the [commissioner's] finding ...

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