Coleman v. State

Coleman v. State, 2013 MT 80 (March 26, 2013) (5-0) (Wheat. J.)

Issue: Whether Coleman’s truck was properly held not to be exempt from the statute prohibiting dyed diesel fuel above a certain concentration.

Short Answer: Yes.

Affirmed

Facts: Larry Coleman operates a cattle ranch near Charlo. In November 2008, he was driving his 1999 International Harvester truck on Hwy. 212. The truck had been modified with a feedbox, hoist, and tailgate. It was not licensed or registered. A state Dept. of Transportation officer stopped Coleman, and with permission, took a sample of the fuel for analysis. The fuel was dyed diesel and was in excess of the concentration allowed on a non-exempt vehicle on a public highway. Coleman was cited for violating § 15-70-330, MCA. Coleman sought formal review of his citation, arguing he is entitled to an exemption from the dyed diesel fuel prohibition under ARM 18.10.110. At a hearing, Coleman admitted the truck was originally designed for highway use, but that it had been converted into a vehicle used primarily off-road for farming. He used the truck that day to go to Charlo to pick up a load of corn and take it back to the ranch. The DOT officer testified that, based on his training, Coleman’s truck was neither an off-road or special mobile vehicle, and that whether Coleman used the truck for agricultural purposes was irrelevant. The hearing examiner issued Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law upholding Coleman’s citation. MDOT adopted the proposed decision, and Coleman appealed to STAB, which affirmed.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Coleman sought judicial review from the district court, which also affirmed. Coleman appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: The Court first affirms that Coleman was a special fuel user subject to § 15-70-330(3), MCA. It next holds that a vehicle’s design determines whether it is entitled to an exemption under ARM 18.10.110(1) and (2). The hearing examiner, STAB, and lower court properly considered the truck’s present configuration as well as its original design. The issue is whether the truck is designed for the transfer of people and property on public roads. That Coleman uses the truck primarily off-road does not change the conclusion; in fact, he was using it on a public highway to transport feed back to his ranch on the day he was cited.