June 28, 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Angela Ciolfi, Executive Director
U.S. DISTRICT COURT REJECTS HERRING’S REQUEST TO DISMISS THE STINNIE v. HOLCOMB DRIVER’S LICENSE SUSPENSION LAWSUIT
Charlottesville, VA—Today, Judge Norman Moon of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia issued an opinion in Stinnie v. Holcomb, a lawsuit filed in 2016 by the Legal Aid Justice Center and McGuireWoods LLP challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s law automatically suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines.
Judge Moon denied DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb and Attorney General Mark Herring’s request to dismiss the case. The Attorney General had argued that the one-year freeze of court debt driver’s license suspensions created by the budget amendment—which takes effect July 1, 2019, and expires July 1, 2020—should end the case.
Judge Moon rejected that argument, finding “although the Budget Amendment may indeed reflect shifting political winds … future enforcement of [the court debt driver’s suspension law] remains reasonably possible such that this case is not moot …” The Court refused to dismiss the case based on the “hypothetical and speculative” facts offered by the Commissioner.
However, Judge Moon decided to stay, or postpone, trial in the Stinnie case to give the General Assembly a chance to pass a permanent fix during the current one-year freeze.
“The Plaintiffs would have preferred to have their day in court this August and end this civil rights crisis permanently,” said Angela Ciolfi, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Justice Center. “But if the Commonwealth will not take responsibility for decades of violating people’s constitutional rights, we will continue to fight in the General Assembly to fix it for the future.”
The Plaintiffs, the Legal Aid Justice Center, McGuireWoods LLP, and their pro bono partners remain committed to ending the injustice of court debt driver’s license suspensions in Virginia. It is unfair, counterproductive, and unconstitutional. It punishes the poor, and it must end.
Stinnie v. Holcomb is a putative 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 District Court, but it was revived by the Fourth Circuit last year 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 15, 2018, Judge Moon took evidence and heard arguments for and against the preliminary injunction. On December 21, 2018 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. The case had been set for trial in August 2019. Today’s decision has the effect of postponing the trial until next year, to permit Virginia’s General Assembly to repeal Virginia’s court debt license suspension law.
To download a copy of today’s opinion, go to https://www.justice4all.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/214-Memorandum-Opinion.pdf
To read more about the effect of the budget amendment, go to https://www.justice4all.org/2019/06/11/6-things-to-know-about-drivers-license-suspensions/
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, workers’ rights, immigration, 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.