Case History: California Drivers Advocates was engaged to defend a client whose Commercial Class “A” Driver License had been summarily downgraded to a Class “C” status because the DMV suspected he was using controlled substances, was using methadone which is banned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act, and had lied on an application for a Medical Examiner’s clearance.
As a younger man, our client had experimented with the use of a variety of illicit drugs. After many years of abuse, he took control of his life and remained clean and sober for 13 years. In an attempt to further himself, he joined a local Union specializing in electrical contracting and entered the Union’s extensive apprenticeship program. One of the requirements of attending the apprenticeship program was that he earn and maintain a Commercial Class “A” Driver License.
In addition to his previous drug addiction, our client also had a history of mild anxiety that was well controlled by medication and therapy.
In November 2016, our client was dealing with a particularly difficult personal situation and he suffered a single relapse into the use of drugs. The relapse culminated in his arrest for DUI but he didn’t have a drop of alcohol in his system. Although he was to be prosecuted in the criminal courts for DUI (a charge he eventually beat), the DMV was prohibited from touching his driving privilege because he had no alcohol in his system.
Using one of the more onerous sections of the Vehicle Code, the DMV issued an order that downgraded his Class “A” driver license to a Class “C” driver license, effectively revoking his Class “A” privilege and put him out of work.
Thinking he could address the problem on his own, our client scheduled a hearing at the Driver Safety Office in Covina. He entered the hearing with what he thought was sufficient evidence to demonstrate that all of his demons were under control and that he was safe to drive commercial vehicles.
The moment the hearing began however, it was evident he was in over his head and that the DMV was gunning for him. Our client was facing a hearing officer who was angry, accusatory and making false allegations. The hearing officer was using provisions of a Federal Law to beat him over the head.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act (FMCSA) is a Federal guideline that sets the standards required for drivers to operate Commercial Vehicles. FMCSA Section 391.41 establishes those medical, physical or mental conditions that automatically disqualify a person from operating commercial vehicles. The FMCA also identifies certain prescription drugs and/or controlled substances that are prima facie “banned” for use by commercial drivers.
It became abundantly clear that he was going to lose the hearing if he didn’t get help so he asked the hearing officer to stop the hearing and continue it to another date so he could seek representation. Fortunately the hearing followed the law and allowed him the time so seek representation.
The very same day, he called California Drivers Advocates for help.
DMV’s Position: Even though the DMV is a California State Agency, it is bound by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Act when it comes to the qualification of a commercial driver. When the DMV learned that our Client had been arrested for a drug related DUI and when they learned that he may have a history of using illicit drugs and methadone to treat it, they blindly presumed he suffered with drug addiction, a mental health disorder, and that he was using a banned medication to treat himself. The DMV also suspected he had omitted certain elements of his medical conditions when applying for a medical clearance by an Authorized Medical Examiner. Essentially it was the DMV’s position to throw the book at him and kill his career with the Electrical Union.
The DMV’s position was quite clear. Downgrade the person’s Commercial Driver License to a regular Class “C” license and then challenge him to prove them wrong. A classic case of “shoot first and ask questions later.”
Our Defense: When the client retained us, we immediately went to work to re-schedule his Commercial Reinstatement Hearing. Although we were able to re-schedule the hearing within a short period of time, because the hearing had already convened, we were not permitted to move the case to a more reasonable hearing officer. Furthermore, the DMV was not willing to “Stay” the downgrade of the license so our Client was out of work for weeks. In an effort to preserve his future, we wrote a letter to our Client’s employer explaining the situation and our firm belief we could save his Commercial License. Fortunately, the employer was willing to reserve final termination of our Client until the DMV had reached a final decision.
Early in our investigation, we learned that our client’s driving history had been remarkably clean for years. We learned that he had never been in a traffic accident or received a moving violation while operating a commercial vehicle, despite the fact the hearing officer had alleged his commercial driving record was atrocious. An allegation that was blatantly false.
We also learned very quickly that our client’s use of Methadone was during a period of time he did not hold a Commercial License and that the prescription medications he was taking were not banned by the FMCSA. We learned that our client’s anxiety was well controlled and that he had not lied in any application for a Medical Examiner’s Clearance. This was simply a case of the DMV going on a witch hunt because they were unable to suspend his driver license for DUI.
After weeks of preparation, we presented our defense before the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Driver Safety Office in Covina.
At the hearing, we introduced items of affirmative evidence to demonstrate what had caused the confusion. We introduced medical evidence to establish that our Client did not have a Mental Health Disorder at a level that was likely to affect safe driving, that he was no longer using banned medications and that he never lied in an application. Furthermore, because we know how to read a driving record printout, we were able to prove the hearing officer was dead wrong regarding his atrocious driving history.
When the hearing reconvened the hearing, our Client was shocked to see how much better the hearing officer behaved. Gone was the anger, accusations and abuse. The hearing officer was polite and accepted all of our evidence without objection and actually admitted she had been wrong in her assessment of the driving record. Because we had spent so much time preparing our client for examination, he testified with great clarity and was completely consistent. His credibility was intact and it was clear the hearing officer had no foot to stand on.
Two weeks later, we received notification that the Hearing Officer had cleared our Client to return to Commercial Driving. We were able to save our client’s driver license and thus his job. Today he is back on the road driving commercial vehicles and has been fully reinstated in the apprenticeship program.
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The DMV Defense Experts at California Drivers Advocates include former police officers, DMV Hearing Officers, Investigators and Scientists. Our training, our experience and our reputation provide any driver the best opportunity to win their Administrative Hearing, including those hearings that are unusual and seldom seen. Whatever legal or scientific defense your case requires, CDA is ready to fight for you.