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Kai Nielsen v. Washington State Department of Licensing No. 68133-8-1

Kai Nielsen obtained an IIDL (ignition interlock device license) following the administrative revocation of his driver’s license pursuant to the implied consent law. He appealed from the Department of Licensing’s revocation ruling, seeking review of the ruling in the superior court. The court dismissed Nielsen’s appeal, determining that he had waived his right to judicial review by obtaining an IIDL. Nielsen challenged the superior court’s decision, asserting that the appeal waiver provision is unconstitutional. The court concluded that the challenged provision, was not rationally related to a legitimate state interest, and violates substantive due process protections. Accordingly, the court found the appeal waiver provision of the IIDL statute is unconstitutional. 

Washington’s implied consent law was passed by popular initiative in 1968. Laws of 1969, ch. 1, § 1 (Initiative Measure No. 242, adopted Nov. 5, 1968); State v. Morales. 173 Wn.2d 560, 571-72, 269 P.3d 263 (2012). Codified as RCW 46.20.308.  The law states:  “provides law enforcement officers with an effective means of obtaining physical evidence of intoxication since any person operating a motor vehicle on the roads of this state is deemed to have consented to the administration of a blood alcohol test.” State v. Bartels, 112 Wn.2d 882, 885, 774 P.2d 1183 (1989). “If the driver refuses to take the test, the driver’s license, permit, or privilege to drive will be revoked or denied for at least one year.” RCW 46.20.308(2)(a).  The people of Washington, in passing the implied consent initiative, provided procedural protections to licensees who are subject to administrative license revocation pursuant to that law. See Laws of 1969,ch.1,§5.1 The statute provides to such licensees an administrative hearing before a Department hearing officer to contest the license revocation. RCW 46.20.308(6)(b), .308(8). Moreover, where the license revocation is sustained by the Department hearing officer, the implied consent law grants to the licensee the right to access the courts in order to challenge the administrative revocation: 

If the suspension, revocation, or denial is sustained after such a hearing, the person whose license, privilege, or permit is suspended, revoked, or denied has the right to file a petition in the superior court of the county of arrest to review the final order of revocation by the department in the same manner as an appeal from a decision of a court of limited jurisdiction. RCW 46.20.308(9).

The license revocation may not be stayed during the pendency of the appeal unless the court determines that the licensee “is likely to prevail in the appeal” and that he or she “will suffer irreparable injury” without a stay.  RCW 46.20.308(9). An IIDL is a permit issued by the Department “that allows the person to operate a noncommercial motor vehicle with an ignition interlock device while the person’s regular driver’s license is suspended, revoked, or denied.” RCW 46.04.217. The licensee may apply for an IIDL at any time, including upon receiving notice of the revocation. RCW 46.20.385(1 )(b). However, pursuant to RCW 46.20.385(1 )(b), a person who receives an IIDL is thereafter not entitled to the procedural protections provided by the implied consent law: “A person receiving an ignition interlock driver’s license waives his or her right to a hearing or appeal under RCW 46.20.308.” 

The issue is whether RCW 46.20.385(1)(b) violates the guarantees of the due process clauses of our state and federal constitutions.  The court concluded that denying to those licensees who obtain an IIDL the right to access the courts to challenge a Department revocation ruling bears no rational relation to a legitimate state interest. Accordingly, the provision contravenes constitutional substantive due process protections. 

Both the Washington and the United States Constitutions mandate that no person may be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. U.S. Const, amends. V, XIV, § 1; Wash. Const, art. I, § 3. “The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment confers both procedural and substantive protections.”5 Amunrudv. Bd. Of Appeals,158 Wn. 2d 208, 216,143P.3d571 (2006) (citing Albrightv. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 114 S. Ct. 807, 127 L. Ed. 2d 114 (1994)): see also United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 746, 107 S. Ct. 2095, 

95 L. Ed. 2d 697 (1987); Daniels v. Williams. 474 U.S. 327, 331, 106 S. Ct. 662, 88 L. Ed. 2d 662 (1986). “Substantive due process protects against arbitrary and capricious government action even when the decision to take action is pursuant to constitutionally adequate procedures.” Amunrud, 158 Wn.2d at 218-19. It requires that “deprivations of life, liberty, or property be substantively reasonable”; in other words, such deprivations are constitutionally infirm if not “supported by some legitimate justification.” Russell W. Galloway, Jr., Basic Substantive Due Process Analysis, 26 U.S.F. L.Rev. 625, 625-26 (1992). 

The level of review applied in a due process challenge depends upon the nature of the interest involved. Amunrud. 158 Wn.2d at 219. Where the state interferes with a fundamental right, we apply strict scrutiny; such an infringement must be “narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.” Amunrud, 158 Wn.2d at 220. “When state action does not affect a fundamental right, the proper standard of review is rational basis.” Amunrud, 158 Wn.2d at 222. Rational basis review requires that a challenged law be “rationally related to a legitimate state interest.” Amunrud, 158 Wn.2d at 222. Applying this deferential standard, the court: “assume the existence of any necessary state of facts which [we] can reasonably conceive in determining whether a rational relationship exists between the challenged law and a legitimate state interest.” Amunrud, 158 Wn.2d at 222. “As relaxed and tolerant as the rational basis standard is, however, the court’s role is to assure that even under this deferential standard of review the challenged legislation is constitutional.” DeYoung v. Providence Med. Ctr., 136 Wn.2d 136, 144, 960 P.2d 919 (1998) (determining that statute was constitutionally infirm pursuant to the equal protection clause). Indeed, notwithstanding the strong presumption of constitutionality, the rational basis test “‘is not a toothless one.'” Mathews v. DeCastro, 429 U.S. 181, 185, 97 S. Ct. 431, 50 L Ed. 2d 389 (1976) (quoting Mathews v. Lucas. 427 U.S. 495, 510, 96 S. Ct. 2755, 49 L. Ed. 2d 651 (1976)). 

“‘For due process protections to be implicated, there must be an individual interest asserted that is encompassed within the protection of life, liberty, or property.'” Attorney General’s Office, Pub. Counsel Section v. Util. &Transp. Comm’n, 128 Wn. App. 818,831, 116P.3d 1064 (2005) (guoting Silver Firs Town Homes, Inc. v. Silver Lake Water Dist., 103 Wn. App. 411, 425-26, 12P.3d 1022 (2000)). RCW 46.20.385(1 )(b) denies to licensees who apply for and receive IIDLs the statutory right to access the courts to challenge a Department revocation ruling. Thus, the interest implicated is the statutory procedural protection provided by the implied consent law, RCW 46.20.308(9): the right to appeal from a Department revocation ruling and, thus, access the superior court for a determination of the propriety of the license revocation. 

Denying to licensees who obtain IIDLs the right to access the courts in order to challenge a Department revocation ruling does not further the state’s interest in maintaining the deterrent effect of its drunk driving laws. Indeed, by discouraging licensees from obtaining IIDLs, it directly conflicts with that interest. Moreover, conserving administrative resources by refusing to mitigate the damage done to those persons whose licenses were wrongfully revoked is not a rational means of furthering that government interest. Finally, the asserted merit of administrative finality does not constitute a sufficient government interest to justify denial of the statutorily-granted right to access the courts. Because there is no rational basis for the challenged legislative provision, we hold that it violates substantive due process protections.

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