APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. RAYMOND
K. BERG, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE BROWN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Plaintiff, Anthony M. Spaulding, brought this action pursuant to the Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 110, par. 264 et seq.) seeking to review the decision of the defendant, Secretary of State, temporarily suspending his driver's license, driving privileges, motor vehicle plates, and motor vehicle registration. The circuit court reversed that decision on the ground that the Secretary's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence, and it is from this order that the defendant Secretary appeals. We affirm.
The plaintiff-appellee, Anthony M. Spaulding, a licensed motor vehicle operator, was involved in an automobile accident on November 22, 1974. The plaintiff and the owner of the other car, John Williams, filed motor vehicle accident reports with the Department of Transportation. These reports are required to be filed when damage to the property of any one person involved in a traffic accident is in excess of $100. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-406.) Spaulding did not answer the question on his report regarding the status of his insurance coverage.
Pursuant to the safety responsibility law (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 95 1/2, par. 7-201), the Department of Transportation made an initial determination, based on these reports, that a deposit of security in the amount of $450 or evidence of insurance was required from Spaulding. After notifying Spaulding and receiving no response, the Department certified the matter to the defendant Secretary of State. The Secretary then made a preliminary finding that there was a "reasonable possibility" of a civil judgment being entered against Spaulding as a result of the accident, and ordered that a formal hearing be held to determine whether an order of suspension of his driving and registration privileges should be entered. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 95 1/2, par. 7-205.
The hearing was held on October 8, 1975. All interested parties received written notice. Anthony Spaulding appeared and was represented by counsel, but neither John Williams nor his wife, the actual driver of the other vehicle, appeared.
At the hearing, the hearing officer could not go forward with the hearing until it was determined whether or not Spaulding had insurance on the date of the accident. Spaulding's attorney admitted that he did not. The accident report of John Williams was then admitted into evidence over Spaulding's objection that the report was hearsay. Spaulding's accident report was not offered. The hearing officer treated the facts reflected in Williams' report as establishing a prima facie case. Spaulding did not attempt to rebut the document by testifying or by offering any evidence in his own behalf.
Thereafter, the hearing officer, after finding that there existed a reasonable possibility that a judgment in money damages, may be entered against Spaulding as a result of the accident, suspended Spaulding's driving and automobile registration privileges. Spaulding then deposited the required security of $450, in order to retain his license.
On November 12, 1975, the plaintiff filed his complaint for administrative review. On September 16, 1976, the circuit court reversed the decision of the Secretary of State on the ground that the decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Specifically, the court held that Williams' accident report was admissible as evidence, but was inadequate to support the Secretary's prima facie case. The sole issue on appeal is whether the motor vehicle accident report of an absent third party, standing alone, is sufficient evidence in a safety responsibility hearing to support a prima facie case that there exists a "reasonable possibility" of a civil judgment for damages being entered against an uninsured motorist.
1 Where an administrative order is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence, it is the duty of the reviewing court to affirm the action of the trial court in setting it aside. (Russell v. License Appeal Com. (1st Dist. 1971), 133 Ill. App.2d 594, 273 N.E.2d 650.) The entire record must be considered in order to determine whether the trial court correctly found that the administrative order was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Gasparas v. Leack (1st Dist. 1968), 93 Ill. App.2d 99, 235 N.E.2d 359.
The only evidence presented at the hearing which could give rise to a prima facie case against Spaulding, was Williams' accident report. Defendant concedes that the report was hearsay. The report indicated that an automobile owned and operated by Spaulding made a right turn against the light and struck an automobile owned by Williams, but operated by his wife, which was proceeding through the intersection on a green light. The report also indicated that the approximate cost to repair Williams' automobile, a 1965 Ford, was $450.
The general rule is that hearsay is inadmissible in an administrative hearing. (Novicki v. Department of Finance (1940), 373 Ill. 342, 26 N.E.2d 130; Russell v. License Appeal Com. (1st Dist. 1971), 133 Ill. App.2d 594, 273 N.E.2d 650.) Defendant argues that a hearing under the safety responsibility law is distinct from other administrative hearings in Illinois. The scope of the hearing, both in terms of the factual determination made and the action taken on this determination, is very limited. The factual inquiry is confined to the question of whether there is a "reasonable possibility" of a civil judgment being entered. No ultimate determination of liability is made and the finding of a "reasonable possibility" cannot be used as evidence in any other proceeding. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 95 1/2, par. 7-215.) Defendant maintains that enough evidence was presented at the hearing to establish a prima facie case against Spaulding.
2 Although the rules and regulations of the safety responsibility law specifically provide that the Secretary may introduce accident reports into evidence at the hearing (Rule 7-101(4)(c)), the legislature did not intend by this section to allow hearsay evidence to be the sole basis for the Secretary of State's determination that there was a reasonable possibility of a judgment being entered. The rule against hearsay is basic and fundamental and not merely a technical rule of evidence. Russell v. License Appeal Com. (1st Dist. 1971), 133 Ill. App.2d 594, 273 N.E.2d 650.
It is apparent that the legislature contemplated that this hearing would encompass more than a threshold inquiry into whether or not a respondent was financially responsible. Rule 7-101(5) enumerates the ...