As a Missouri semi truck accident attorney, I’ve written here many times about the elevated standard of conduct required to get and maintain a commercial driver’s license. A CDL authorizes the holder to operate buses and trucks of many tons and with a lot of destructive potential, so it carries special obligations. These include a reduced legal limit for DUIs, random alcohol testing and other measures designed to weed out intoxicated drivers. Those measures resulted in a license revocation for trucker James T. Robbins in 2006, in State of Wyoming Department of Transportation v. Robbins. Robbins sued to challenge his license revocation and succeeded at the trial court. But the Wyoming Supreme Court ultimately reversed, finding that the correct standard of evidence for license revocation should be “a preponderance of the evidence,” not “clear and convincing evidence.”
Clerks at a Wyoming port of entry smelled alcohol on Robbins’s breath and called state troopers, who administered a breath test that reported a BAC of 0.073. Further breath tests turned up results of 0.05, 0.041 and 0.04. He was cited for violating Wyoming and FMCA regulations forbidding drivers on duty to have a BAC of 0.04 or higher. Not long after, Robbins received a notice that his commercial driver’s license was disqualified by the Wyoming Department of Transportation. He requested a hearing, where he argued that the Wyoming statute at issue required a conviction. He lost and petitioned a Wyoming state court for a declaratory judgment finding the law unconstitutional and reinstating his license. That court found in Robbins’s favor, but using arguments not raised in the petition, so the Wyoming Supreme Court reversed and remanded. On remand, the trial court again found for Robbins, ruling that although the statute is not facially unconstitutional, the state DOT should have used a “clear and convincing evidence” standard because a “preponderance of the evidence” standard denies due process. Robbins again appealed.
On appeal, Robbins took up trial court arguments that due process of law requires that the standards for any professional license case — which require a clear and convincing evidence standard — should apply to a CDL case like his. In fact, the Wyoming Supreme Court wrote, due process is flexible and should be judged according to the private interest involved, the risk of depriving a private entity of that interest and the government interest involved. Wyoming statutes regard a CDL as a privilege, not a right, the court said. While it noted that caselaw distinguishes CDLs from non-commercial licenses, it said it has consistently found that the same standard of care applies to both. Furthermore, it said a CDL is distinguishable from other types of professional licenses because holding it is a privilege not involving any fundamental right. Thus, it does not require a heightened clear and convincing evidence standard of proof, the high court said, and thus the Wyoming statute at issue is not unconstitutional. It reversed the lower court on all issues.
This decision pleases me as a southern Illinois tractor-trailer accident lawyer. Every state regulates professional licenses, and some deference is justified because professional licenses are required for doctors, attorneys, hairdressers and many others to make a living. However, professional licenses should not be given so much deference that their holders are permitted to endanger the public, and that seemed like a likely result of the lower court’s finding in this case. Driving at all is a responsibility; driving a heavy truck with the power to kill passers-by is a serious responsibility that should never be done under the influence. By applying a higher evidentiary standard in the CDL disqualification case, the court could have allowed drivers to end-run around federal safety regulations. As a St. Louis big rig accident attorney, I’m pleased that it kept those regulations relevant.
Carey, Danis & Lowe represents families that suffered serious injuries or a loss after a trucking accident that was no fault of their own. If you’d like to tell us your story and learn more about how we can help, send us a message through our website or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.
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