Supreme Judicial Court (December 21, 2009)

A defendant's "appeal" from an adverse license restoration order under G.L. c. 90, § 24(1)(f)(1), is civil in nature and should be brought as a certiorari action in the Superior Court.

A judge's decision not to reinstate a defendant's license after a finding of not guilty on an operating under the influence offense does not violate the separation of powers principle.

The defendant's license was suspended for life after refusing to submit to a breath test when arrested for a fourth offense operating under the influence. A jury found the defendant not guilty of the offense and the defendant filed a motion to have his license restored pursuant to G.L. c. 90, §24(1)(f)(1) which states:

The defendant may immediately, upon the entry of a not guilty finding or dismissal of all charges under this section ... and in the absence of any other alcohol related charges pending against said defendant, apply for and be immediately granted a hearing before the court which took final action on the charges for the purpose of requesting the restoration of said license. At said hearing, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that said license be restored, unless the commonwealth shall establish, by a fair preponderance of the evidence, that restoration of said license would likely endanger the public safety.

After a hearing, the judge denied the defendant's motion and the lifetime license loss remained in effect. The defendant appealed the decision to the Appeals Court and the case was transferred to the Supreme Judicial Court on their own motion.

Judicial Review:
The Commonwealth argues that because there is no specific authorization by statute or court rule for an appeal from a judge's decision on license restoration, the Appellate Courts lack jurisdiction to hear the defendant's appeal and thus the appeal must be dismissed. The SJC disagreed reasoning that because license suspension proceedings are considered non-punitive, regulatory matters and therefore civil in nature, the proper means of review of a license restoration order should be brought by a litigant in the Superior Court by means of a certiorari action.

Separation of Powers:
The defendant then challenges the constitutionality of G.L. c. 90, §24(1)(f)(1) arguing that it violates the separation of powers mandated by Article 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The SJC disagreed reasoning that by enacting the statute, the legislature allocated the power to make decisions regarding license restoration to the judiciary. "In formulating its comprehensive regulatory scheme aimed at regulating the motorways and keeping them safe, and in allocating some responsibilities to the executive department and others to the judiciary, there is no indication that the legislature's allocation constituted impermissible interference with the executive department's functions." Luk v. Commonwealth, 421 Mass 415 (1995) and Brach v. Chief Justice of District Court Department, 386 Mass. 528 (1982).