LAJC Asks Appeals Court to Reverse Dismissal

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Charlottesville, Va., June 14, 2017—Today, the Plaintiffs in Stinnie v. Holcomb filed notice of their intent to appeal the dismissal of their complaint to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The Plaintiffs ask the higher court to reverse the lower court’s order dismissing their lawsuit before giving them an opportunity to prove that the Defendant suspended their licenses unlawfully.

Stinnie v. Holcomb is a class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of hundreds of thousands of Virginia drivers who cannot afford to pay court costs and fines.  In October 2016, the Virginia Attorney General’s office filed a Motion to Dismiss on behalf of the Defendant, DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb.  Both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP filed “friend-of-the-court” briefs supporting the Plaintiffs’ arguments that the statute is unconstitutional. On March 13, 2017, the U.S. District Court granted the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, citing jurisdictional reasons and concluding that the Commissioner was not a proper defendant. On May 22, 2017, the Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend the Judgment was denied. Today, the Plaintiffs have filed a Notice of Appeal of the lower court’s rulings on the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, the Plaintiffs’ Motion to Alter the Judgment, and related issues.

“This case is about a patently unconstitutional law that punishes hundreds of thousands of Virginians and their families for their poverty, and takes people out of the workforce.  All the Plaintiffs want is a chance to prove that the Commonwealth’s automatic suspension law violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the law,” said Angela Ciolfi, attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center.  “We hope the Fourth Circuit will agree that such an important civil rights case affecting so many of Virginia’s residents should not be dismissed so early in the case.”

“I want to work and support my family,” said Demetrice Moore, a plaintiff in the case. “But public transportation is limited, and it’s hard to find jobs I can get to without a driver’s license.  Suspension for unpaid court debt makes it harder for courts to get their money.  Virginia’s policy hurts people and makes no sense.” 

Every year, Virginia traps hundreds of thousands of low-income residents in debt and poverty by automatically suspending their driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines, regardless of whether they could afford to pay.  Nearly one million Virginia drivers currently have at least one suspension on their license for failure to pay, including approximately 650,000 people whose licenses are suspended solely for not paying court costs and fines.  For many drivers, that means giving up their only mode of transportation to work, forcing them to choose between losing their jobs and risking jail time for driving on a suspended license.  These long-suffering Virginia drivers will continue to endure a never-ending cycle of debt and incarceration, so long as the law forces them to choose between driving illegally and forsaking the needs of their families. 

Independant Study’s podcast features an indepth look of our case complete with interviews of of Damian Stinnie. Click here to download.

 

For more information about this case please contact:

Angela Ciolfi, Director of Litigation & Advocacy, Legal Aid Justice Center

434-529-1810  angela@justice4all.org