Trial de novo is not an appeal

Defendant in this Clay County case thought her due process rights had been violated at her administrative hearing with the Department of Revenue. The DOR won and the Defendant had her driving privileges suspended. So she had the case reviewed by the trial court which refused to consider the issues of due process rights. Defendant appealed that decision and the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

This all began after the Defendant lost her administrative case to the DOR. The Defendant sought what is called a de novo review at the trial court level. And it was at this level that the trial court said it did not have the authority to hear and determine due process violations that allegedly took place at the administrative hearing.  

So the Defendant appealed and the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District went on to affirm and uphold the trial court’s decision saying the trial court in a de novo review does not have to consider due process issues.

The appellate court reasoned that a trial de novo is an original proceeding and is not designed or intended to review the underlying administrative proceeding for alleged errors. 

Therefore, any challenges alleging due process violations emanating from the administrative hearing are outside the scope of the trial court’s statutory charge in a trial de novo. The reason being that a trial de novo is a new judicial proceeding that is unfettered by factual findings or legal conclusions rendered in an administrative tribunal.  By making this holding, the Defendant’s driving privileges were ultimately denied.

The Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment asking the trial court to set aside the suspension of her license because the administrative hearing officer who presided over the administrative hearing violated her due process rights to a fair, impartial, and meaningful hearing conducted by a neutral hearing officer. She argued that her rights to due process were violated in two ways:

First of all, the hearing officer after learning from an unidentified clerk that the Director of Revenue’s file did not contain a complete maintenance report, notified a member of his support staff of the deficiency, and the member of his support staff then obtained a complete copy of the maintenance report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ website and supplemented the Director of Revenue’s file with it.

The second alleged violation came after the Defendant objected and the hearing officer allowed the complete maintenance report to be admitted into evidence. The hearing officer then ruled that a breath test, which determined the Defendant’s blood-alcohol concentration was in excess of the legal limit, was performed using properly functioning equipment by a licensed person.

The case was heard before Division One Judge Cynthia L. Martin, Presiding Judge, and Judges Alok Ahuja and Anthony Rex Gabbert.

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