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Richard v. Secretary of State

Supreme Court of Maine

August 16, 2018

JOSEPH L. RICHARD
v.
SECRETARY OF STATE

          Argued: July 19, 2018

          Jeremy W. Dean, Esq. (orally), Portland, for appellant Joseph L. Richard

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          HUMPHREY, J.

         [¶ l] Joseph L. Richard appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court (Oxford County, Clifford, /.) affirming the decision of the Secretary of State to impose a three-year administrative suspension of Richard's driver's license because of a fatal accident that he caused in 2014. See 5 M.R.S. § 11008 (2017); 29-A M.R.S. § 2458(2-A) (2017); M.R. Civ. P. 8OC. Richard challenges (1) the court's determination[1] that, as a matter of law, 29-A M.R.S. § 2458(2-A) is not punitive or criminal in nature and therefore does not require a higher standard of proof, and (2) the determination of the Secretary of State's Hearing Examiner that Richard's operation at the time of the accident was negligent. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following undisputed facts are taken from the Secretary of State's decision, including the Hearing Examiner's findings, and the procedural facts are drawn from the Superior Court's record. See Manirakiza v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 2018 ME 10, ¶ 2, 177 A.3d 1264.

         [¶3] On July 15, 2014, Richard was driving on a street in Brewer when his vehicle crossed the center line and collided with an oncoming vehicle. Two of the three passengers in his vehicle died as a result of the injuries that they sustained in the collision.

         [¶4] The Secretary of State sent Richard a notice of suspension on May 13, 2016, advising him that, in accordance with 29-A M.R.S. § 2458(2-A), his license to operate a motor vehicle would be suspended for a period of three years, effective May 27, 2016. Richard requested a hearing to review the suspension, and the hearing was held before a Hearing Examiner on August 15, 2016.

         [¶5] At the hearing, Richard testified that he did not remember the crash, but he asserted that a cardiac event had caused him to lose consciousness. The Hearing Examiner found that there was insufficient evidence in the record to support that theory because "[h]is physician [was] only able to speculate that a connection between the accident and Mr. Richard's cardiac condition [was] possible. And the hospital records indicate Mr. Richard experienced atrial fibrillation one week after the accident, with no known prior history of such an event."

         [¶6] In a decision dated September 7, 2016, the Hearing Examiner upheld the Secretary of State's three-year suspension of Richard's driver's license. The Hearing Examiner found and concluded that Richard negligently operated a motor vehicle when he fell asleep while driving and swerved into oncoming traffic, and determined that Richard's negligent operation of the motor vehicle caused the deaths of two other people. The Hearing Examiner explained that "[o]ne of the most basic and critical requirements placed on all drivers is to maintain control of the motor vehicle at all times. No external interference caused Mr. Richard to leave his travel lane. As he admitted to [the detective] just hours after the crash, he recognized that he was feeling tired as he drove but elected to keep driving until he reached a truck stop. That decision unfortunately had terrible consequences."

         [¶7] On October 27, 2016, Richard petitioned the Superior Court for judicial review of final agency action pursuant to 5 M.R.S. § 11001(1) (2017) and M.R. Civ. P. 8OC.[2] After holding oral argument, the court affirmed the Secretary of State's decision in an order dated September 26, 2017. Richard filed a motion for reconsideration, which ...


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