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Dominique Niki Matteo v. California State Department of Motor Vehicles

September 21, 2012

DOMINIQUE NIKI MATTEO, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
CALIFORNIA STATE DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



Trial Court: Marin County Superior Court Trial Judge: Hon. Verna A. Adams (Marin County Super. Ct. No. CV1004825)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jenkins, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

This is an appeal from a trial court order directing petitioner California State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to grant respondent Dominique Niki Matteo (Matteo) a restricted drivers license based upon his compliance with Vehicle Code section 13352, subdivision (a)(3), as amended effective July 1, 2010, a date occurring after Matteo's commission of a drunk driving offense but before his conviction for the offense.*fn1 The DMV contends the order was based on an illegal retroactive application of section 13352, subdivision (a)(3), requiring reversal. We disagree and affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Matteo has thrice been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) pursuant to section 23152, subdivision (a) - on December 24, 1990; December 13, 2007; and July 15, 2010. The July 15, 2010 conviction stemmed from an offense committed by Matteo on February 23, 2010, involving a multiple-point collision. Because this was Matteo's second DUI offense in 10 years, he was deemed a second-time offender subject to certain legal requirements, including a one-year license suspension under section 13353.2.

After the DMV suspended his license for one year pursuant to section 13353.2, Matteo requested an Administrative Per Se (APS) hearing, which was held June 9, 2010. On June 15, 2010, Matteo entered a nolo contendre plea in court. A few weeks later, on July 8, 2010, the DMV mailed to Matteo its written decision upholding the administrative suspension effective as of the June 9, 2010 hearing date.*fn2 On July 15, 2010, pursuant to Matteo's plea, the trial court, among other things, ordered him to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in his vehicle for at least one year.

The trial court's order to convict Matteo was entered shortly after the July 1, 2010 effective date of the amendment to section 13352, subdivision (a)(3), the statutory provision at the center of this dispute. Under this amendment, second-time DUI offenders (alcohol only) could apply to the DMV for a restricted license after only 90 days of suspension if they accomplished each of the following: (1) enrolled in an 18-month DUI program; (2) provided proof of financial responsibility in the form of an SR-22 certificate of insurance; and (3) provided proof of installment of an IID in his or her vehicle.*fn3

In this case, Matteo appears to have met these requirements. As such, on September 7, 2010, after serving a 90-day suspension, Matteo applied in person at a DMV field office for an IID-restricted license.*fn4 However, Matteo was told by a DMV official he was ineligible for such license until at least June 8, 2011, because the version of section 13352, subdivision (a)(3), in effect on February 23, 2010, the date he committed the relevant DUI offense, required a one-year suspension. This action by the DMV official was, in turn, consistent with the DMV's statewide policy to apply the amended version of section 13352, subdivision (a)(3) only to drivers committing a DUI offense after the amendment's July 1, 2010 effective date.

On September 13, 2010, Matteo filed a petition for writ of mandamus (writ petition) in superior court challenging the DMV's refusal to grant him an IID-restricted license. The same day, the trial court issued an alternative writ of mandate; order to show cause. On October 28, 2010, following a contested hearing, the trial court granted Matteo's writ petition and ordered the DMV to grant Matteo the restricted license. The trial court reasoned that under In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740 and People v. Durbin (1966) 64 Cal.2d 474, Matteo was entitled to the benefit of a statutory decrease in punishment in effect at the time of his conviction. In addition, the court found that the legislative history of the amended version of section 13352, subdivision (a)(3) reflects a clear intent that the statute apply broadly to "as many persons as constitutionally permissible." This timely appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

The DMV contends the trial court's order, which requires it to apply the amended version of section 13352, subdivision (a)(3) in the case of Matteo, violates a long-standing rule requiring prospective application of newly enacted statutes in the absence of clear contrary legislative intent.

I. Mootness.

On our own motion, we requested supplemental briefing from the parties on the preliminary issue of whether this appeal should be dismissed as moot. " 'When no effective relief can be granted, an appeal is moot and will be dismissed.' [Citations.]" (MHC Operating Limited Partnership v. City of San Jose (2003) 106 Cal.App.4th 204, 214.) Here, the parties disagree on whether this appeal has become moot with respect to Matteo personally, but nonetheless agree that the issue raised herein is of continuing and significant public concern such that dismissal is unwarranted. Specifically, with respect to Matteo personally, while he correctly points out that he has been granted the right to operate his IID-equipped vehicle with a restricted license, the DMV contends that, should the agency prevail on appeal, it will revoke his restricted license and reinstate the remaining period of his license suspension. With respect to the broader public, both parties note that the DMV adheres to a general statewide policy in the context of administrative licensing proceedings under which statutory amendments are applied only to persons who commit the relevant driving offense after the amendment's effective date. The amendment of section 13352, subdivision (a)(3) is just one example of statutory amendments to which this standard DMV policy applies. As such, the parties argue there is an increased likelihood that the same, or at least a comparable, statutory interpretation issue will be raised in future appeals.*fn5

"Even if a case is technically moot, the appellate court may nonetheless exercise its discretion to decide the case. Such an exercise of discretion may occur where the case 'poses an issue of broad public interest that is likely to recur.' [Citations.] This exception has been invoked in many instances in order to decide a case of continuing public interest. (See, e.g., Johnson v. Hamilton (1975) 15 Cal.3d 461, 465 [125 Cal.Rptr. 129, 541 P.2d 881] [observing that it has been 'frequently held that a case is not mooted from the fact alone that the issue in the case is of no further immediate interest to the person raising it']; . . . .) And the public interest exception has been applied in the context of a mandamus proceeding. ...


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