Monday, April 25, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 72

Summary of Decision April 25, 2011

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Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Case Name: Harvey v. State (Department of Transportation)

Citation: 2011 WY 72

Docket Number: S-10-0194


Appeal from the District Court of Carbon County, Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge

Representing Appellant (Defendant): R. Michael Vang, Fleener & Vang, Laramie, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee (Plaintiff): Bruce A. Salzburg, Attorney General; Robin Sessions Cooley, Deputy Attorney General; Kenneth J. Miller, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Douglas J. Moench, Senior Assistant Attorney General.

Date of Decision: April 25, 2011

Facts: Appellant challenges an order from the district court affirming the suspension of his driver’s license under Wyo. Stat. 31-6-102 (2009) for operating a forklift along the side of a highway while under the influence of alcohol. Appellant contends the trooper who stopped him for failure to display a slow moving vehicle emblem as required by Wyo. Stat. 31-5-921(d) did not have probable cause to justify the stop.

Issues: Whether the arresting officer presented sufficient facts to find that Appellant violated the elements of Wyoming’s Implied Consent law, specifically that the officer presented sufficient “admissible” evidence to support that he observed a valid violation of Wyoming Stat. 31-5-921(d).

Holdings: Appellant does not dispute that he failed to display a slow moving vehicle emblem on the forklift while operating it on the highway. Rather, he argues that the failure to display such an emblem was not a violation of Wyo. Stat. 31-5-921(d) and, accordingly, did not provide the trooper with probable cause to initiate the traffic stop.

The phrase “special mobile equipment designed for operation at speeds not in excess of twenty-five (25) miles per hour,” as used in Wyo. Stat. 31-5-921(d) unambiguously includes forklifts. Although the Legislature did not define the term “special mobile equipment,” the plain and ordinary meaning of the words used indicates that a forklift is included. First, it is clear that a forklift is “mobile equipment” as contemplated by the statute and it is unnecessary to resort to dictionary definitions of those terms. Second, the word “special,” in the sense in which it is used to describe “special mobile equipment,” is defined as “distinguished by some unusual quality,” or “designed or selected for a particular purpose, occasion, or other end.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 2186 (3d ed. 2002). Looking to the definition of a forklift, which is “a machine for hoisting heavy objects by means of a row of steel fingers,” a forklift falls squarely within the broad connotations associated with the phrase “‘special’ mobile equipment.” Turning next to the second part of the phrase used in the statute, there is no difficulty determining that a forklift is “designed for operation at speeds not in excess of twenty-five (25) miles per hour.” Appellant has presented no evidence relating to the speed of the particular forklift he was driving or forklifts in general. Despite the fact that a forklift may be capable of speeds greater than 25 miles per hour, however, the principal virtue for which a forklift is designed is lifting capacity, not speed, and it can be safely concluded that a forklift is not designed to transport heavy objects at speeds greater than 25 miles per hour. In sum, reasonable persons can agree with consistency and predictability that a forklift is “special mobile equipment designed for operation at speeds not in excess of twenty-five (25) miles per hour” under Wyo. Stat. 31-5-921(d).

Finally, Appellant argues that Wyo. Stat. 31-5-921(d) should be interpreted in light of Section 921(h), which provides that the emblem required in subsections (d) and (e) of this section shall comply with current standards and specifications of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers. He claims that there is nothing in the Agricultural Engineers standards which indicates that forklifts are covered by those standards. Regardless of whether forklifts are mentioned in the Agricultural Engineers standards, Appellant’s argument misses the mark. Whether a slow moving vehicle emblem is in compliance with the standards and specifications of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers has no bearing on the issue of whether forklifts are governed by Wyo. Stat. 31-5-921(d).

The trooper had probable cause to believe that a traffic violation occurred based on Appellant’s failure to display a slow moving vehicle emblem on the forklift. Affirmed.

J. Burke delivered the opinion for the court.

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