This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).







Roberto Laniado, petitioner,





Commissioner of Public Safety,



Filed June 5, 2007


Hudson, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. 27-CV-06-4653


Stephen V. Grigsby, 2915 South Wayzata Boulevard, Suite 101, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55405 (for appellant)


Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Melissa Eberhart, Joel A. Watne, Assistant Attorneys General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101-2134 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellant Roberto Laniado challenges the district court’s order sustaining the Commissioner of Public Safety’s cancellation and denial of appellant’s driver’s license and dismissing appellant’s petition for judicial review of his license revocation.  Because appellant’s driving privileges were subject to a total-abstinence restriction, and because appellant violated the restriction by consuming alcohol, we affirm.


            The facts of this case are not in dispute.  On September 7, 2000, appellant’s driver’s license became subject to a total-abstinence restriction.  The duration of the restriction was for “as long as [appellant] lived and wished to remain licensed to drive in Minnesota.”  Appellant acknowledged the existence of the restriction by signing a last-drink statement and providing five sponsor statements verifying his abstinence and agreeing to report any violations of the restriction. 

            On the evening of February 10, 2006, a Corcoran police officer stopped appellant for speeding.  The officer administered a breath test to appellant, which indicated that appellant had consumed alcohol.  Appellant admitted to the officer that he regularly consumes alcohol but makes sure not to go over the legal limit.

After checking appellant’s driver’s record through the mobile terminal in the officer’s squad car, the officer discovered that appellant’s driving privileges were subject to a total-abstinence restriction.  The officer informed appellant about the restriction, to which appellant replied that he was unaware that he was still subject to the restriction.  Apparently, the Department of Public Safety’s agents failed to timely designate on appellant’s driver’s license the existence of the restriction.  Consequently, on February 10, 2006, appellant was in possession of a driver’s license that did not indicate that his license was subject to a total-abstinence restriction. 

On February 23, 2006, the commissioner cancelled and denied as inimical to public safety appellant’s driver’s license for violating the total-abstinence restriction.  Appellant appealed to the district court.  After a de novo bench trial at which appellant testified, the district court concluded that appellant had actual and constructive notice of the restriction; that the law did not require that the total-abstinence restriction be designated on appellant’s driver’s license; and that appellant was not entitled to a license.  This appeal follows.


            Appellant challenges the district court’s order sustaining the commissioner’s cancellation and denial of his driver’s license, arguing that the commissioner is estopped from canceling and denying his license.  The issue of estoppel is ordinarily a question of fact, but “when only one inference can be drawn from the facts, the question is one of law.”  In re Westling Mfg., Inc., 442 N.W.2d 328, 331 (Minn. App. 1989) (quotation omitted) (discussing the proper standard of review to be used in estoppel cases), review denied (Minn. Aug. 25, 1989).  This court reviews the district court’s factual findings for clear error.  In re Hutchinson, 440 N.W.2d 171, 175 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. Aug. 9, 1989); see Madison v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 585 N.W.2d 77, 82 (Minn. App. 1998) (stating that when the district court reviews the commissioner’s decision to cancel a petitioner’s driver’s license, the district court conducts a trial de novo), review denied (Minn. Dec. 15, 1998).  But this court “is not bound by and need not give deference to a district court’s decision on a purely legal issue.”  State v. Ramirez, 597 N.W.2d 575, 577 (Minn. App. 1999).

The commissioner may impose restrictions on a driver’s license.  Minn. Stat. § 171.09(a) (2004).  When the commissioner has sufficient cause to believe that an individual whose driver’s license is subject to a total-abstinence restriction has consumed alcohol, “[t]he commissioner shall cancel and deny the driver’s license.”  Minn. R. 7503.1700, subp. 6 (2005); see also Minn. Stat. § 171.04, subd. 1(10) (stating that a driver’s license shall not be issued to an individual who the commissioner has good cause to believe would be inimical to public safety).  However, “[a]ny person whose driver’s license has been . . . canceled . . . by the commissioner . . . may file a petition for a hearing in the matter in the district court . . . and such court . . . shall . . . take testimony and examine into the facts . . . to determine whether the petitioner is entitled to a license or is subject to . . . cancellation . . . .”  Minn. Stat. § 171.19 (2004).  The petitioner has the burden of proving that he or she did not consume alcohol and is entitled to a driver’s license.  Madison,585 N.W.2d at 82. 

Here, it is undisputed that appellant violated the total-abstinence restriction on his driver’s license.  But appellant argues that the commissioner should be estopped from revoking his license because, due to a departmental error, the restriction was not designated on his license.  Estoppel should not be freely applied against the government, but instead should only be sparingly used.  Ramirez, 597 N.W.2d at 577–78.  The party attempting to estop the government has a heavy burden of proof.  In re Westling, 442 N.W.2d at 332. 

Estoppel is applied against the government when justice requires and the equities advanced by appellant are sufficiently great.  Mesaba Aviation Div. of Halvorson of Duluth, Inc. v. County of Itasca, 258 N.W.2d 877, 880 (Minn. 1977).  “Estoppel is available as a defense against the government if the government’s wrongful conduct threatens to work a serious injustice and if the public’s interest would not be unduly damaged by the imposition of estoppel.”  Ramirez, 597 N.W.2d at 577 (quotation omitted).  For equitable estoppel to apply, appellant must demonstrate that the commissioner, “through his language or conduct, induced [appellant] to rely, in good faith, on [his] language or conduct to [appellant’s] injury, detriment or prejudice.”  Ridgewood Dev. Co. v. State, 294 N.W.2d 288, 292 (Minn. 1980).  Reliance on conduct later wished to be renounced is a necessary, but not sufficient, element of equitable estoppel.  In re Mesaba, 258 N.W.2d at 880.  “The most important element of an equitable estoppel case against the government is wrongful government conduct.”  Ramirez, 597 N.W.2d at 578.  Appellant must show that the commissioner engaged in “affirmative misconduct, rather than simple inadvertence, mistake or imperfect conduct.”  Shetka v. Aitkin County, 541 N.W.2d 349, 353 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Feb. 27, 1996). 

The equities advanced by appellant as to his reliance on the lack of the abstinence designation on his license are not persuasive because in September 2000 he signed a last-drink statement acknowledging his life-long total-abstinence restriction.  Moreover, assuming arguendo that appellant actually relied on the department’s administrative error, he has not offered any evidence on the most important element of an equitable estoppel claim, namely that the department engaged in affirmative misconduct.  Based on the record, it appears that the department’s error amounts to simple inadvertence, mistake, or imperfect conduct.  In addition, the law only requires a license to (1) designate the type of vehicle(s) that can be operated; (2) bear a distinguishing number; and (3) show the licensee’s full name, date of birth, address, physical description, and usual signature.  Minn. Stat. 171.07, subd. 1(a) (2004).  Thus, the law does not require a restriction to be signified on a license for the restriction to be valid.  Based on the record and the law, we conclude that the commissioner is not estopped from canceling and denying appellant’s driver’s license.