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Thurman v. Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

July 7, 2017

BRUCE THURMAN
v.
TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF SAFETY AND HOMELAND SECURITY

          Assigned on Briefs June 1, 2017

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 16-0337-IV Russell T. Perkins, Chancellor

         The owner of a truck was charged with driving on a revoked license, and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security initiated a proceeding to forfeit the truck. An administrative hearing was held, which resulted in an order that the truck be forfeited. The owner sought review of the forfeiture in Chancery Court pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act, and the court affirmed the forfeiture. Finding that the seizure of the truck constituted an excessive fine in violation of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions, we reverse the judgment.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Reversed; Case Remanded

          Bruce Thurman, Dyer, Tennessee, Pro Se.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Brooke K. Schiferle, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

          Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., joined.

          OPINION

          RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         On April 27, 2015, Sergeant David Paschall of the Dyer Police Department stopped Mr. Bruce Thurman for speeding; in the course of the stop, Sergeant Paschall requested that Mr. Thurman produce his driver's license and vehicle registration. Mr. Thurman was unable to do so but gave his name and other information, which Sergeant Paschall relayed to the central police department for investigation. The inquiry revealed that Mr. Thurman's license had been revoked by the State of Illinois on May 12, 2013, following a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol. Sergeant Paschall arrested Mr. Thurman and charged him with driving on a revoked license, third offense. On April 30 a warrant authorizing the initiation of a forfeiture proceeding was issued, and his truck was seized.

         Mr. Thurman timely filed a petition for a hearing on the forfeiture with the Tennessee Department of Safety ("TDS"), in accordance with the procedures at Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-33-201, et seq. A hearing was held before an administrative judge, who issued an Initial Order upholding the seizure of Mr. Thurman's truck and ordering its forfeiture to the Dyer Police Department. Mr. Thurman filed a petition for reconsideration; the administrative judge did not act on the petition, and it was deemed denied pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-317(c). Mr. Thurman appealed the Initial Order to TDS in accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-315, and a Final Order was entered on February 23, 2016, by the Commissioner's designee affirming the initial order and forfeiture.

         On April 6, 2016, Mr. Thurman filed a petition in Davidson County Chancery Court seeking judicial review of the TDS Final Order pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-322. In due course, the administrative record was filed, and on October 11, 2016, the court entered a Memorandum and Final Order, denying the petition and affirming the forfeiture. Mr. Thurman appeals, articulating these issues:

1. The State's seizure of claimant's vehicle is a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
2. The State's argument that claimant's raising of constitutional arguments were time barred is invalid.[1]

II. Standard of Review

         Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-322 allows for judicial review of agency decisions in chancery court; appeals to this Court are allowed pursuant to section 4-5-323. This Court, as well as the trial court, reviews the Commission's decision under the narrowly defined standard of review set forth at section 4-5-322(h):

The court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings. The court may reverse or modify the decision if the rights of the petitioner have been prejudiced because the administrative ...

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