Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County, in case of James T. Belle v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, No. 1984-2280.
Harold H. Cramer, Assistant Counsel, with him, Spencer A. Manthorpe, Chief Counsel, and Henry G. Barr, General Counsel, for appellant.
Robert Davis Gleason, for appellee.
Judges Craig and Doyle, and Senior Judge Narick, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Senior Judge Narick.
[ 105 Pa. Commw. Page 469]
Appellee, James T. Belle, had his privilege to operate a motor vehicle suspended for one year by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (Department), for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test. The Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County (trial court) reinstated those privileges, whereupon the Department appealed.
At the outset, we note that a trial court's decision in a license suspension case cannot be disturbed on appeal unless its findings are not supported by substantial evidence, erroneous conclusions of law have been made, or the decision exhibits a manifest abuse of discretion. Bruno v. Department of Transportation, 54 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 353, 422 A.2d 217 (1980). Because we have determined that the trial court's decision was founded upon an erroneous conclusion of law, we reverse.
[ 105 Pa. Commw. Page 470]
The facts as found by the trial court are not in dispute. The arresting officer stopped appellee at about 3:00 a.m. on July 2, 1984. Suspecting that appellee was driving under the influence of alcohol, the officer requested, apparently several times, that appellee submit to a breathalyzer test. Appellee refused, having been warned that a refusal would result in a suspension of his operating privileges. Appellee told the officer that he had a heart condition, and was on medication. The officer ultimately drove appellee to his nearby residence. Following the officer's submission of his report indicating appellee's refusal to take the test, appellee was notified of the suspension of his operating privileges.
The trial court framed the issue before it as follows: whether a certifiable heart patient, on medication and under the care of a physician, has the right to contact his physician prior to submitting to a breathalyzer test. Although it recognized the burden it placed upon police officers both to make a diagnosis on the scene, and to notify such patients of their right to contact their physician prior to undergoing testing, the court determined that such a right should exist, as "[w]e pride ourselves on the individualistic approach when applying the law to citizens of our state and county."
Unfortunately, the trial court ignored both the clear language of Section 1547 of the Vehicle Code*fn1 and the previous decisions under that Section and its nearly-identical predecessor section.*fn2
[ 105 Pa. Commw. Page 471]
In relevant part, Section 1547 of the Vehicle ...