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Golovach v. Commonwealth

August 19, 2010

JOHN R. GOLOVACH
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, BUREAU OF DRIVER LICENSING, APPELLANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McCULLOUGH

Submitted: May 14, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge.

OPINION

The Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing (Department), appeals from the December 3, 2009, order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (trial court), which sustained the appeal of John R. Golovach (Licensee) from the Department's decision recalling his driver's license pursuant to 67 Pa. Code §83.5(a)(2)(i).*fn1 We affirm.*fn2

The Department received a cardiologist's "Initial Reporting Form," DL 13, indicating that Licensee suffered from "intermittent complete heart block" and that the condition affected his ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 40a.) In response to the report, the Department notified Licensee that it was recalling his driver's license indefinitely and that the recall would remain in effect until the Department received medical information showing that Licensee's condition improved and that he could safely operate a motor vehicle. (R.R. at 38a-39a.) The Department enclosed a "Cardiovascular Form," DL-120, with the recall notice, which was completed by Licensee's treating physician, Mohan Bhat, M.D, and submitted to the Department on or about September 28, 2009. (R.R. at 37a.) On the line of the DL-120 form referencing syncopal attack, Dr. Bhat indicated that Licensee experienced a syncopal attack/dizziness on July 14, 2009.*fn3 However, Dr. Bhat also indicated on the DL- 120 form that Licensee had a heart block for which a pacemaker had been implanted, and that Licensee was physically competent to operate a motor vehicle.

By notice mailed October 8, 2009, the Department informed Licensee that he did not meet its medical standards and that the Department would not restore his operating privilege. (R.R. at 36a.)

Licensee filed an appeal with the trial court challenging the recall of his driver's license. At the appeal hearing,*fn4 the Department introduced into evidence its certified record containing the DL-13 Form, the DL-120 Form, and a October 21, 2009, medical report by Dr. Bhat, which states that Licensee "had a pacemaker implanted on 8/2009" and "he now has no medical contra-indications to resume driving." (R.R. at 46a.) Based upon the documents in the certified record, the Department argued that, because Licensee experienced a syncopal attack with dizziness on July 14, 2009, Licensee was incompetent to drive pursuant 67 Pa. Code §83.5(a)(2)(i). The Department asserted that, under 67 Pa. Code §83.5(a)(2)(i), Licensee was required to wait six months before his operating privilege could be restored.

In response, Licensee argued that the Department was improperly relying upon an unconstitutional presumption contained in 67 Pa. Code §83.5(a)(2)(i), which imposes an automatic irrebuttable six month license suspension.*fn5

The trial court sustained Licensee's appeal, concluding that the Department was improperly relying upon an unconstitutional irrebuttable presumption that Licensee was incompetent to drive. The trial court based its decision on Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing v. Clayton, 546 Pa. 342, 684 A.2d 1060 (1996) (holding that 67 Pa. Code §83.4(a), pertaining to driver's license recalls due to seizure disorders, created an irrebuttable presumption of incompetency to drive and violated due process), and Peachey v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 979 A.2d 951 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2009) (following the holding in Clayton). Furthermore, the trial court also concluded that the totality of the evidence favored Licensee.

On appeal to this Court,*fn6 the Department contends that trial court erroneously relied upon Clayton and Peachey to resolve the case in favor of Licensee, and that the trial court thereby placed at jeopardy all of the Department's medical competency regulations. The Department also contends that this Court should employ an equal protection analysis and conclude that the Department's regulations rationally require the recall of the licenses of medically impaired drivers and further the Commonwealth's interest in traffic safety. We recently considered and rejected these arguments in Dewey v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, ____ A.2d ____ (Pa. Cmwlth. No. 2409 C.D. 2009, filed May 26, 2010), explaining as follows:

The Department argues that the trial court erred by relying on Peachey, which it contends is wrongly decided and should be overturned or, at the very least, limited to 67 Pa. Code § 83.4(a). It contends that if this Court applies Peachey to [67 Pa. Code § 83.5(a)(1)], all of its regulations would be eviscerated and a parade of horribles, such as blind people and children being allowed to drive upon the consent of their treating physicians, would ensue. The Department submits that this Court should instead engage in an equal protection analysis and hold that its regulations, including 67 Pa. Code § 83.5(a)(1), should be upheld because there is a rational basis for recalling the driving privileges of those who the Department determines are medically impaired from safely operating a motor vehicle.

Contrary to the Department's contentions, the trial court correctly held that Clayton and Peachey are squarely controlling in this matter. In Clayton, the licensee suffered a grand mal epileptic seizure. He had no prior history of seizure disorders. As a result, the Department recalled his driving privileges pursuant to 67 Pa. Code § 83.4(a). He appealed the recall to the trial court and presented evidence from his treating physician that he did suffer a grand mal seizure but that he could still safely drive. The trial court sustained Clayton's appeal, and this Court and our Supreme Court both affirmed. Our Supreme Court held that 67 Pa. Code § 83.49(a) created an impermissible irrebuttable presumption that a person who suffered from a seizure was incompetent to drive for a period of at least one year (now, six months) from the date of his last seizure. Any evidence that Clayton could present to attempt to rebut the presumption that he was unfit to drive was deemed irrelevant by the language of the regulation, which made the appeal process a sham and violated due process.

Despite this holding, the Department continued to interpret it in the same way as 67 Pa. Code § 83.4(a). In 2009, this Court in Peachey again held that 67 Pa. Code § 83.4(a) created an impermissible irrebuttable presumption and violated due process. The facts in Peachey were identical to those in Clayton. Peachey experienced a temporal lobe seizure, and the examining doctor submitted a form to the Department stating that he suffered from a seizure disorder that affected his ability to operate a motor vehicle. Peachey appealed to the trial court and submitted a report and deposition testimony by his treating neurologist that indicated that he could safely drive despite the seizure. The trial court sustained Peachey's appeal, and the Department appealed to this Court making the identical arguments that it makes in the instant matter. This Court affirmed, stating:

The issues that Department raises in this appeal were thoroughly addressed and rejected by our supreme court in Clayton, [which held] that the regulation at issue created an impermissible irrebuttable presumption. In so holding, the court observed that a person who suffered a single seizure is presumed to be incompetent to drive for at least one year following that seizure, and, under the regulation, any medical evidence offered to rebut that presumption would be irrelevant, at least with respect to the one-year recall. After stressing that procedural due process must be met before one's operating privilege can be revoked or recalled, the court in Clayton identified the essence of due process as a requirement for a meaningful hearing. The court then pointedly noted that when a hearing excludes consideration of an element essential to the decision of whether a license shall be recalled, it does not meet that standard. The court recognized the interest of ...


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