Supreme Court At-a-Glance Contributor Sam Harkinson, Previously employed as an Assistant County, Attorney, and as an insurance adjuster, now as an associate at Hoefle, Phoenix, Gormley & Roberts

No. 2021-0014

March 16, 2022

Reversed

 

  • Whether a court in reviewing an appeal following an administrative license suspension (“ALS”) errored in interpreting the applicability of the statutory definition of a “way”.

 

The Petitioner was found intoxicated in a church parking lot and was charged with driving under the influence.  She challenged the ALS and requested a hearing.  At the hearing she stipulated that the arresting officer had reasonable grounds to believe that she was intoxicated but argued that the officer did not have reasonable grounds to believe that she was operating a vehicle on a “way” as defined by statute.  Specifically, the Petitioner argued that pursuant to RSA 259:125, a church parking lot did not fit within the first definition of “way” as it is a private, not laid out with use of public funds, nor maintained for the benefit of commercial establishment.  The Petitioner further argued that the alternative definition of “way” did not apply to the statute governing ALS and was therefore inapplicable.

The hearing examiner upheld the ALS and concluded that the State had met its burden.  In doing so, the hearing examiner provided that ALS, “is intertwined with, and closely related to, and in fact, is based on an arrested for [DUI].”  The Petitioner appealed the hearing examiner’s decision to the superior court, which affirmed the decision of the hearing examiner.

In reversing the superior court’s order affirming the hearing examiners decision, the Majority Opinion of the Court conducted a review of the applicable statutes and agreed with the Petitioner that the statutory scheme did not support the hearing examiners conclusion that the State had a reasonable belief that the Petitioner was operating her vehicle on a “way” as defined by statute.  The Majority Opinion dismissed the State’s arguments that its interpretation would create an absurd result, concluding that a literal reading of the statute does not lead to results that are untenable when applied to persons who are identically situated.

In dissenting, the Minority Opinion of the Court concluded that the “ways” upon which a driver can be arrested for a DUI are coextensive with the “ways” upon which the driver has given implied consent.

 

DesMeules Olmstead & Ostler, Cabot Teachout on the brief and orally for the Petitioner. The Office of Attorney General John M. Formella, Assistant Attorney General Emily C. Goering on the memorandum of law and orally for the Director, Division of Motor Vehicles.