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Singleton v. Babbitt

December 8, 2009

HAROLD B. SINGLETON, PETITIONER
v.
J. RANDOLPH BABBITT, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, ET AL., RESPONDENTS



On Petition for Review of an Order of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Per curiam.

Argued October 6, 2009

Before: GARLAND, BROWN, and GRIFFITH, Circuit Judges.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revoked petitioner Harold Singleton's medical certificate and pilot's license after finding that he gave an intentionally false answer on his application for the medical certificate. The National Transportation Safety Board affirmed the FAA's revocation order. We conclude that the Board erred in two respects. It wrongly suggested that Singleton's understanding of the form was irrelevant to the offense of intentional falsification. And it granted summary judgment to the FAA without giving Singleton a chance to present evidence bearing on that understanding. Accordingly, we vacate the grant of summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.

I.

In March 2008, North Carolina police stopped Singleton at a driver's license checkpoint.A breathalyzer test showed that he had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or more, a level that constitutes an "implied-consent offense[]" and results in a "civil license revocation" under North Carolina law. N.C. GEN. STAT. § 20-16.5. Singleton was arrested and charged with the implied-consent offense, and his license was revoked for thirty days. The revocation order was issued by the District Court Division of the General Court of Justice of Gaston County, North Carolina, and was signed by a magistrate, whom the order described as a "Judicial Official." Revocation Order When Person Present (Mar. 14, 2008) (J.A. 158). Singleton was also charged criminally for driving while impaired, but that charge was eventually dismissed. See Appellant's Br. 18 n.7; id. at Addendum B.

A few months later, in June 2008, Singleton applied to the FAA for an Airman Medical Certificate. Question 18 of the application form covers "Medical History." At the time Singleton applied for his certificate, Question 18v was listed under a separate subheading entitled "Conviction and/or Administrative Action History," and asked applicants to answer "Yes" or "No" to the following:

History of (1) any conviction(s) involving driving while intoxicated by, while impaired by, or while under the influence of alcohol or a drug; or (2) history of any conviction(s) or administrative action(s) involving an offense(s) which resulted in the denial, suspension, cancellation, or revocation of driving privileges or which resulted in attendance at an educational or a rehabilitation program.

FAA Form 8500-8 (3-99) (J.A. 151) (emphasis added). Singleton checked "No."

On July 24, 2008, the FAA informed Singleton by letter that it had learned of the driver's license revocation. The agency stated that it was investigating whether Singleton had "intentionally provided false or fraudulent information" in his response to Question 18v, "in that [he] did not reference [his] alcohol related offense." Letter from C. Johnson to H. Singleton (July 24, 2008) (J.A. 155). Singleton responded a week later, denying that he had intentionally provided false information. He explained that he had not been convicted of any alcohol-related charges and that he "did not look upon [the revocation] as a revocation due to a conviction but only a part of the process." Letter from H. Singleton to C. Johnson (July 31, 2008) (J.A. 156-57). "In retrospect," he continued, "I wished that I had asked the FAA for clarification on the meaning of 'Administrative Action', however, at the time it seemed clear to me that I was not to answer 'yes' until or unless there were to be a conviction." Id. (bolding removed).

On October 2, 2008, the FAA issued an emergency order revoking Singleton's pilot's license and medical certificate. The FAA charged Singleton with violating 14 C.F.R. § 67.403(a)(1), which bars "fraudulent or intentionally false statement[s] on any application for a medical certificate."

Singleton appealed the revocation order to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). On October 27, the FAA moved for summary judgment before an administrative law judge (ALJ), stating that Singleton's driving record showed that his license "was administratively revoked/suspended for a cause related to alcohol." Mot. for Summ. J. at 2 (J.A. 146). The FAA noted that Singleton knew of the revocation and failed to seek clarification about the meaning of Question 18v. "Instead," the FAA contended, "on his own, [Singleton] chose to interpret the plain language of item 18.v to require a 'yes' answer only after a conviction," and this interpretation was a "rationalization." Id. at 4. Singleton knew that his "no" answer was false, the FAA maintained, id. at 5, and summary judgment was therefore appropriate under NTSB Rule 17(d), 49 C.F.R. § 821.17(d), because there were "no material facts in dispute," id. at 1.

Singleton filed an opposition to the FAA's summary judgment motion on November 5, arguing that Question 18v was confusing and that the term "administrative action" was not defined on the form or in the instructions. Singleton argued that his knowledge and understanding of the meaning of Question 18v was a disputed issue of fact that ought to be resolved at a hearing. See Opp'n to Complainant's Mot. for Summ. J. at 2-4 (J.A. 163-65). He attached an affidavit attesting that he "did not know the events were an administrative action as asked for in Question 18.v." Singleton Aff. ¶ 6 (J.A. 170). On November 18, 2008, Singleton filed a "Supplemental Response to Pre-Hearing Order," updating the information he had previously provided about witnesses and exhibits he would offer at a hearing. The exhibits included a page from Black's Law Dictionary, stating that "administrative functions or acts are distinguished from such as are judicial." BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY 45 (6th ed. 1990), Attach. to Supplemental Resp. to Pre-Hearing Order (J.A. 187).

On November 19, the ALJ granted the FAA's motion for summary judgment. The ALJ concluded that, because Singleton had signed "court documents" attesting to the revocation, "it is patently absurd and unbelievable that he did not know that his North Carolina driver license had been administratively revoked/suspended." Am. Order Granting Acting Administrator's Mot. for Summ. J. at 5 (J.A. 202). The ...


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