Petition for Writ of Certiorari to Review Quasi-Judicial Action, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles:  DRIVER’S LICENSES – Hardship license – doctrine of equitable estoppel applied under the facts of this case – Department was estopped from denying a hardship license for the sole reason that Petitioner was driving on a license that the Department erroneously issued – --Petition granted.  Husen v. Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, No. 04-0056AP-88A (Fla. 6th Cir. App. Ct. May 18, 2005).

 

 

IN THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT

IN AND FOR PINELLAS COUNTY, FLORIDA

APPELLATE DIVISION

 

THERESA HUSEN,

                        Petitioner,

 

vs.                                                                                               Appeal No. 04-0056AP-88A

                                                                                                   UCN522004AP000056XXXXCV

DEPARTMENT OF HIGHWAY

SAFETY AND MOTOR VEHICLES,

                        Respondent.

____________________________________________/

 

 

ORDER GRANTING PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI 

            THIS CAUSE came before the Court on the Petition for Writ of Certiorari, the Response and the Reply.  Upon consideration of the same, the record and being otherwise fully advised, the Court finds that the Petition must be granted as set forth below.

            The Petitioner, Theresa Husen (Husen), seeks review of the Amended Final Order, entered June 23, 2004, in which the Respondent, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (Department), denied Husen’s application for early reinstatement of her driver’s license.  In reviewing the administrative action taken by the Department, this Court must determine whether Husen was afforded procedural due process, whether the essential requirements of law were observed, and whether the Department’s findings and judgment are supported by competent substantial evidence.  See Vichich v. Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 799 So.2d 1069, 1073 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001)(setting forth the standard of review for administrative action taken by the Department).

            The record shows that, on October 12, 2000,   Husen’s driving privilege was revoked for a period of 5 years after being convicted of a second DUI within a 5-year period.  Husen was eligible to receive a hardship license for business or employment purposes only on October 12, 2001.  On July 10, 2002, Husen went to the Department and was issued a driver’s license after paying a $300.00 fee.  A hearing was not held pursuant to Florida Statutes, § 322.271, and there was no verification by the Department that Husen had not driven or been drug-free for the preceding 12-month period.[1] 

            On or about June 14, 2004, Husen, who operated a vehicle as part of her employment, was notified by her employer that her driver’s license was not valid.  The employer made the discovery upon completing its annual employees’ license verifications.  On June 17, 2004, Husen went to the Department and applied for a hardship license.  During a hearing held the same day, the Department’s hearing officer considered the undisputed evidence and testimony that showed Husen was issued, without the requisite hardship license hearing, a driver’s license on July 10, 2002, and that Husen had driven a vehicle within the preceding 12 months based on the invalid license.  Husen’s undisputed testimony also demonstrated that when Husen sought the hardship license in July 2002, she had not been driving since her license revocation, had remained sober since August 2000, had successfully completed a DUI education course, and otherwise appeared eligible for a hardship license. 

            The hearing officer found the issuance of the license in July 2002 “strange” and concluded the hearing by explaining to Husen that a new, valid hardship license would be issued provided Husen’s references “come back fine” and Husen was accepted into the Special Supervision Services program.  The referral to the program is set forth in a letter to Husen, dated June 23, 2004.  Upon reconsidering the matter and without further hearing, the hearing officer entered the Amended Final Judgment the same day, June 23, 2004, denying a hardship license because Husen had driven within the past 12 months. 

            Before this Court, Husen argues that the Department failed to observe the essential requirements of law when it denied Husen a hardship license based solely upon the fact that Husen had driven within the 12 months preceding the early reinstatement hearing, when the Department erroneously led Husen to believe that she held a valid driver’s license.  Husen argues that the doctrine of equitable estoppel should apply in this case since Husen relied to her detriment on the Department’s issuance of a license.  The Department responds that the doctrine of equitable estoppel should not apply as the Department immediately issued an Order of License Revocation, Suspension, or Cancellation, dated July 24, 2002, canceling her driving privilege and informing her that she was not eligible to hold a Florida license.

            Initially, the Court finds that the undisputed testimony and evidence presented to the hearing officer showed that Husen was unaware of the Department’s Order of July 24, 2002, and there is nothing to suggest that the hearing officer considered this Order in entering the Amended Final Judgment.  Hence, this Court will not consider the Order in addressing the estoppel argument.  See City of Miramar v. Amoco Oil Company, 524 So.2d 506 (Fla. 4th DCA 1988)(stating that a circuit court’s certiorari review is limited to the evidence presented before the particular agency involved).

            In considering the application of the doctrine of equitable estoppel to this case, the Court finds that estoppel cannot be applied against a government entity to accomplish an illegal result and can only be applied under exceptional circumstances.  See Branca v. City of Miramar, 634 So.2d 604, 607 (Fla. 1994); see also Salz v. Department of Administration, Division of Retirement, 432 So.2d 1376, 1378 (Fla. 3d DCA 1983).  In this case, Husen was eligible to receive a hardship license pursuant to Florida Statutes, § 322.271(2)(b), when she went to the Department on July 10, 2002, to apply for a driver’s license.  This important fact distinguishes this case from those cited by the Department in its Response, as the driver in each case was ineligible to receive a hardship license after having his/her driver’s license permanently revoked.  See Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles v. Davis, 775 So.2d 989 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000); Cantrall v. Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Case No. 2001-CA-000069 (Fla. 12th Cir. App. Ct. June 4, 2001); Hancock v. Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Case No. 00-3280 CICI (Fla. 7th Cir. App. Ct. June 6, 2001).   

            As set forth in Salz, three elements must be proven to establish estoppel:  “1) a representation as to a material fact that is contrary to a later-asserted position; 2) reliance on that representation; and 3) a change in position detrimental to the party claiming estoppel, caused by the representation and reliance thereon.”  See Salz, 432 So.2d at 1378.  Under the unique set of facts presented by this case, the Court finds that the doctrine of equitable estoppel applies and that the Department departed from the essential requirements of law in not issuing a hardship license for the sole reason that Husen had been driving on a license the Department erroneously issued.  The record shows that Husen was unaware that she needed to have a hardship license hearing in July 2002 and believed she was driving with a valid license.  The Court finds that Husen, in her clear attempt to follow the law, should not be penalized by the Department for its own error.    

           

 

 

 

            Therefore, it is,

            ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Petition for Writ of Certiorari is granted and the Amended Final Order is quashed. 

            DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers, at Clearwater, Pinellas County, Florida this ________ day of April 2005.

 

 

                                                _______________________________

                                                JOHN A. SCHAEFER

                                                Circuit Judge, Appellate Division

 

 

 

 

 

_______________________________                                  ______________________________

LAUREN C. LAUGHLIN                                                     JAMES R. CASE

Circuit Judge, Appellate Division                                               Circuit Judge, Appellate Division

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copies furnished to:

 

Sean B. Kelley, Esquire

13620 49th Street North, Suite 201

Clearwater, FL  33762

 

Jason Helfant, Assist. General Counsel

Fla. Dept. of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles

2515 West Flagler Street

Miami, FL  33135

 

Bureau of Administrative Reviews

4585 140th Avenue North, Suite 1002

Clearwater, FL  33762



[1] Florida Statutes, § 322.271(2)(b), states, in pertinent part:  “the department shall require such persons upon reinstatement to have not driven and to have been drug free for at least 12 months immediately prior to such reinstatement, to be supervised by a DUI program licensed by the department, and to report to the program at least three times a year as required by the program for the duration of the revocation period for supervision.”  To ensure these criteria are met, the Department is to afford the driver a hearing upon the driver’s petition to the Department for early reinstatement.