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Nathan Charles Johnston v. Iowa Department of Transportation

February 27, 2013

NATHAN CHARLES JOHNSTON, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
IOWA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, MOTOR VEHICLE DIVISION, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, D.J. Stovall, Judge.

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

Petitioner appeals the decision of the district court affirming the revocation of his driver's license for six years under Iowa Code section 321J.4(4) (2011). REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Heard by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Danilson and Bower, JJ.

Petitioner Nathan Johnston appeals the decision of the district court affirming the revocation of his driver's license for six years under Iowa Code section 321J.4(4) (2011) based on the Iowa Department of Transportation's determination he had three convictions for operating while intoxicated (OWI). He claims one previous conviction should not be considered because it was a violation of a municipal ordinance. He also asserts that even if a violation of an ordinance could be considered, the ordinance was not "substantially equivalent" to section 321J.2(1), and therefore, may not be considered as a prior offense based on section 321J.2(8)(c). We conclude the term "statute" in section 321J.2(8)(c) does not encompass violations of city ordinances. We reverse the decision of the district court and the Department, and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background Facts & Proceedings

On October 8, 2011, the Iowa Department of Transportation gave notice to Johnston that his driving privileges were revoked for six years under Iowa Code section 321J.4(4) because he had three previous convictions for OWI within the last twelve years. The Department noted Johnston had a convictions for OWI in Nebraska on July 16, 2002, in Iowa on April 7, 2005, and another in Iowa on May 30, 2011.

Johnston appealed to the Department, arguing that his conviction in Nebraska should not be counted as a previous conviction under section 321J.2(8). Johnston claimed his Nebraska conviction did not qualify as a previous offense because it was based on a violation of a city ordinance, Omaha City Municipal Code chapter 36, article III, section 36-115.*fn1 He asserted section 321J.2(8)(c) only applied to statutes of other states, not ordinances. He also asserted that the Nebraska ordinance was not "substantially equivalent" to section 321J.2(1), the Iowa statute setting out the elements of OWI.

Section 321J.2(8)*fn2 provides:

In determining if a violation charged is a second or subsequent offense for purposes of criminal sentencing or license revocation under this chapter . . . .

c. Convictions or the equivalent of deferred judgments for violations in any other states under statutes substantially corresponding to this section shall be counted as previous offenses. The courts shall judicially notice the statutes of other states which define offenses substantially equivalent to the one defined in this section and can therefore be corresponding statues. Each previous violation on which conviction or deferral of judgment was entered prior to the date of the violation charged shall be considered and counted as a separate previous offense.

The Department denied his request, stating, "Our official notice concerning your sanction indicated that you were not entitled to an appeal because Iowa Law mandates our action. We have no discretion, so an appeal can not be provided."

Johnston then filed a petition for judicial review in district court, claiming the agency did not consider relevant and important matters as required by section 17A.19(10)(j), and its decision was unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion under section 17A.19(10)(n). The case was submitted to the court based on the written record.

The district court affirmed the decision of the Department. The court found the Omaha ordinance was substantially equivalent to section 321J.2(1), stating, "The penalty provisions, scope, and level of detail in the ordinance and the Iowa law may differ in some ways, but both forbid the same conduct." The court found, "there is no requirement that the provision of law underlying the outof-state conviction be absolutely identical to Iowa Code section 321J.2." The court also determined, "the statute/ordinance distinction is irrelevant for purposes of license revocation." The court noted that "[t]he conduct for which Johnston was convicted in Omaha would have also constituted a criminal offense under Nebraska's state OWI statute." The court concluded the Department properly considered the Omaha offense.

Johnston filed a motion pursuant to Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2). The court denied the motion. Johnston now appeals.

II. Standard of Review

In judicial review of agency actions, the district court reviews for the correction of errors at law. Welch v. Iowa Dep't of Transp., 801 N.W.2d 590, 594 (Iowa 2011). We apply the standards of section 17A.19(10) to the agency action to determine whether our conclusions are the same as those of the district court. Lee v. Iowa Dep't of Transp., 693 N.W.2d 342, 344 (Iowa 2005). On factual issues, the agency's findings should be affirmed if ...


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