Injunction Granted In License Suspension Case

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Information for individuals with suspended license can be found here:  https://www.justice4all.org/drivers-license-update/

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Preliminary Injunction Granted in Driver’s License Case:
Judge finds driver’s license suspension statute likely unconstitutional and orders DMV to reinstate Plaintiffs’ licenses while litigation proceeds.

Charlottesville, Virginia, (December 21, 2018) —This afternoon, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia issued a preliminary injunction against DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb ordering him to reinstate the driver’s licenses of the three named plaintiffs in Stinnie v. Holcomb who lost their licenses automatically when they were unable to pay court costs and fines.

Judge Norman K. Moon found that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in establishing that Virginia’s license suspension statute is unconstitutional, and that the plaintiffs have suffered irreparable harm as a result of its enforcement. The opinion states, “While the Court recognizes the Commonwealth’s interest in ensuring the collection of court fines and costs, these interests are not furthered by a license suspension scheme that neither considers an individual’s ability to pay nor provides him with an opportunity to be heard on the matter.”

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the Constitution and for common sense. The Court stated unequivocally that Virginia’s driver’s license suspension statute likely violates procedural due process rights,” said Angela Ciolfi, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Justice Center. “This week, two branches of state government have weighed in against continued enforcement of this counter-productive policy, and there is strong bipartisan support for repeal in the General Assembly. It is time to end the devastating cycle of debt, unemployment, and incarceration once and for all.”

Judge Moon’s ruling comes on the heels of Governor Ralph Northam’s announcement earlier this week of his support for ending license suspension in Virginia of people too poor to pay court debt, and rulings earlier this year by two federal courts in Tennessee and Michigan declaring similar statutes unconstitutional. The ruling currently affects only the five named Plaintiffs unless and until the Court rules on Plaintiffs’ pending motion for class certification. Repeal legislation sponsored by Senator Bill Stanley will be considered by the General Assembly during the upcoming 2019 session.

Memorandum Opinion (PDF)

Order Granting Preliminary Injunction (PDF)

Overview:
Stinnie v. Holcomb is a class action lawsuit, filed by Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) and McGuireWoods LLP, challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of nearly one million Virginia drivers who cannot afford to pay court costs and fines. The case was originally dismissed at the Circuit Court, but it was revived by the Fourth Circuit this summer when the appeals court allowed plaintiffs to amend their complaint. When LAJC filed the amended complaint, they also asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction, which would have the effect of ordering the DMV Commissioner to stop suspending driver’s licenses for non-payment of court debt while the lawsuit is pending.  On November 15th, Judge Moon took evidence and heard arguments for and against the preliminary injunction.  On December 21, Judge Moon granted the preliminary injunction finding the driver’s license suspension statute likely unconstitutional and ordering the DMV Commissioner to reinstate Plaintiffs’ licenses while litigation proceeds. The Court also rejected the Commissioner’s arguments that the federal court lacked jurisdiction.

National and Statewide Implications:

  • Virginia is one of 43 states that suspend driver’s licenses for non-payment of court costs and fines related to traffic and/or criminal offenses. Since Stinnie was originally filed in 2016, six more statewide lawsuits have been filed (or almost filed) in California, Tennessee, Michigan, Montana, Mississippi (settled pre-filing), and North Carolina, and advocates have won legislative reforms in many states, including California and, most recently, D.C.
  • A federal judge recently issued a statewide injunction against a similar enforcement scheme in Tennessee.
  • This ruling will not impact the nearly one million Virginia drivers who, as of December 2017, 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, a license suspension 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. 

To read more about the lawsuit, or to download the briefs, go to http://www.justice4all.org/drive.

About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, immigration, workers’ rights, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.