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O'Neil v. Ryan

November 12, 1998

WILLIAM E. O'NEIL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
GEORGE H. RYAN, SECRETARY OF STATE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McNAMARA

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY No. 97 CH 9419

HONORABLE STEPHEN A. SCHILLER, JUDGE PRESIDING.

The Illinois Secretary of State (Secretary) denied plaintiff's petition for reinstatement of driving privileges or, alternatively, for a restricted driving permit. On administrative review, the circuit court reversed the Secretary's decision and ordered the Secretary to reinstate plaintiff's full driving privileges. The Secretary appeals. For the following reasons, we reverse. The relevant facts are as follows.

On March 8, 1991, plaintiff was stopped by a police officer for improper lane usage and failure to signal a lane change. The officer reported that he detected a strong odor of alcohol on plaintiff's person, that plaintiff's speech was slurred, and that his eyes were bloodshot and glassy. An open alcoholic beverage was found in plaintiff's car. Plaintiff failed the field sobriety tests. A breathalizer test administered by the officer revealed a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.17, well above the legal limit.

Plaintiff testified that he had consumed 10 beers and 4 shots of tequila before embarking on his 30-mile drive home. Plaintiff was arrested for and convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. His license was summarily suspended, and as required by statute, the Secretary revoked plaintiff's driver's license on October 3, 1991.

Prior to the March 1991 arrest, plaintiff was in the habit of drinking alcohol 2 to 3 times per week. On each of those occasions plaintiff would drink between 1 and 15 beers. Sometimes plaintiff would substitute 1 to 5 shots of liquor for beer, consuming as many as 12 beers and 5 shots in a night. After the March 1991 arrest, plaintiff's drinking increased to 3 to 4 times per week and 6 to 15 beers per occasion with similar hard liquor consumption. Plaintiff testified that he was an alcoholic by the age of 21.

Following the arrest, O'Neil completed 75 hours of outpatient counseling. He was designated a level III dependant alcoholic. Unknown to his counselor, plaintiff continued to drink every weekend during this period of counseling. After finishing the outpatient program, plaintiff's counselor recommended weekly Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, monthly aftercare sessions and abstinence. Plaintiff has apparently remained abstinent since January 3, 1993. His abstinence is documented and corroborated by letters from family and friends. However, plaintiff has failed to complete aftercare or become involved in AA. Plaintiff testified that he attended AA meetings for two months but stopped because he felt uncomfortable. Plaintiff never tried any other formal support group. Plaintiff also admitted that he was not too familiar with the AA recovery steps.

The hearing officer recommended denial of plaintiff's first application for reinstatement of driving privileges because plaintiff had failed to document completion of treatment adequate to address his alcohol problem. The Secretary adopted this recommendation by order dated May 10, 1996.

Prior to the hearing on plaintiff's second application for reinstatement of driving privileges, plaintiff went to a new alcohol counselor for an updated evaluation. The new evaluator prepared a letter recommending waiver of any additional treatment. This recommendation was based primarily on plaintiff's four years of abstinence and the support he receives from his family. The evaluator did not detail plaintiff's support program any further.

At the hearing on the second application, plaintiff testified that his support group consists of his wife, his brother, his mother-in-law, and his stepmother. He provided letters from each. Plaintiff's testimony and the letters indicate that plaintiff's support system consists of (1) engaging in athletic activities with his brother, who is also a recovering alcoholic; and (2) talking to his family members when he has problems.

Plaintiff further testified that he feels the urge to drink on a monthly basis. He testified that as recently as the Saturday before his second hearing he felt the urge to drink while he was bowling with his wife. Plaintiff stated that being in situations where he sees other people drinking socially can "trigger" his craving for alcohol.

Plaintiff is employed by W.E. O'Neil Construction company as a project manager. A letter from his employer presented at the hearing stated that plaintiff's present ability to perform his employment- related duties is significantly hampered by plaintiff's failure to have a valid driver's license. The letter further stated that plaintiff was awaiting transfer to the company's Arizona offices, but he could not be transferred unless he was granted driving privileges.

Plaintiff was also arrested in 1988 for driving under the influence of alcohol after being involved in an automobile accident. A blood test revealed a BAC of 0.26, well above the legal limit.

The hearing officer recommended denial of plaintiff's second application, finding that plaintiff had not established a sufficient ongoing support system to maintain continued abstinence and, therefore, had failed to carry his burden of proving that he would not endanger the public safety and ...


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