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Federal judge declines to reconsider DMV license suspension suit

Published: Jul. 9, 2016 at 10:30 PM EDT
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May 31, 2017

A federal judge has decided not to reconsider a class-action lawsuit filed against the commissioner of Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Daily Progress

Judge Norman Moon is standing by his decision to dismiss the case from federal court saying in a May 22 ruling that the issues were "fairly litigated before" and new arguments plaintiff attorneys raised in a motion filed April 10 should have been submitted earlier in the litigation.

Moon noted reconsideration is an "extraordinary remedy that should be used sparingly."

The Legal Aid Justice Center filed the lawsuit against the DMV in July on behalf of low-income drivers who lost their license for failing to pay court debts.

Plaintiff attorneys have 30 days from May 22 to appeal Moon's decision.

Civil rights lawyers with the Department of Justice

in saying Virginia's practice of suspending the driver's licenses of people who can't pay court costs and fines is unconstitutional

Despite the dropping of this lawsuit, however, Virginia's General Assembly passed a bill this February to

to enter into a deferred or installment payment plan to avoid having their licenses suspended. The bill sets a down payment limit at $100. The bills now head to the governor.

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Apr. 17, 2017

Plaintiffs in a recently dismissed class-action lawsuit against the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles are asking a federal judge to reverse his decision to drop the case.

The Daily Progress

attorneys from the Legal Aid Justice Center said in an April 10 filing that Judge Norman Moon's decision to drop the case was based on "mistakes of facts and law." Attorneys say the mistakes regard how license suspensions are ordered and how records of suspensions are kept.

The Legal Aid Justice Center filed the lawsuit against the DMV on behalf of low-income drivers who lost their license for failing to pay court debts.

Moon wrote in his March 13 opinion that state courts — not his court — have jurisdiction on the matter.

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Mar. 14, 2017

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a Virginia law automatically suspending the driver's licenses of people who can't pay court costs and fines.

Judge Norman K. Moon said Monday that his court does not have jurisdiction over the matter. He did not make a judgment on the merits of the case.

The Legal Aid Justice Center filed the lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles on behalf of low-income drivers who lost their license for failing to pay court debts.

The lawsuit said the state's failure to take into account people's financial circumstances unfairly punishes the poor.

The Legal Aid Justice Center said in a statement that it "will not stop fighting until the automatic suspension law is repealed."

However, in the most recent session of Virginia's General Assembly, a

to enter into a deferred or installment payment plan to avoid having their licenses suspended. The bill sets a down payment limit at $100.

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July 2016

The Legal Aid Justice Center has filed a class action lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and its commissioner, Richard Holocomb.

The lawsuit alleges the DMV is acting unconstitutionally when it automatically suspends the licenses of individuals who fail to pay fines and court fees. Specifically, the lawsuit says the practice unfairly targets indigent individuals who live at or below the federal poverty limit and cannot afford to pay fines and court fees.

The lawsuit names four plaintiffs including Damian Stinnie from Charlottesville and Neil Russo from Fluvanna County.

According to the lawsuit, Stinnie is a 24-year-old cancer survivor whose license was suspended after he failed to pay a series of fines and court fees. The lawsuit says Stinnie was unable to pay because he lives at the poverty line. It also alleges that several court systems were aware that Stinnie could not pay, but rather than creating a payment plan that he could afford, they had his licenses suspended.

According to the suit, Russo is a 61-year-old cancer survivor whose license was also suspended after he failed to pay a series of fines and court fees. The lawsuit alleges that Russo underwent expensive medical treatment that left him without money and unable to pay the courts back. Again, the suit alleges the courts were aware of Russo's indigent status but failed to work with Russo to create a proper payment plan and instead had his licenses suspended.

A half-dozen Virginia court systems are named in the suit, including Albemarle County, Goochland County, Henrico County, Fairfax County, Arlington and Loudon County.

In all cases, the lawsuit argues that suspending the licenses unjustly punishes them for being poor. It also says that without access to a car, most of the plaintiffs cannot work in order to make money to pay the courts back. Finally, the lawsuit says the license suspensions perpetuate the poverty of the plaintiffs because most court fees and fines begin to grow at a six percent interest rate when left unpaid.

The lawsuit also alleges Russo and Stinnie cannot travel to receive the medical treatment they require.

"In summary, the loss of a driver's license often results in personal and familial hardship, such as reduced employment and education opportunities, reduced capacity to care for one's family, increased barriers to successfully reentry after a criminal offense, and increase indebtedness as interest on costs and fines accumulates," the lawsuit reads.

The five-count class action suit alleges that the named agencies violate the constitutional rights to due process and equal protection when they suspend the license of an indigent individual.

On behalf of the four plaintiffs named in the suit, the Legal Aid Justice Center demands a judge rule that the license suspension plan carried out by the DMV is unconstitutional, that the practice be stopped until a better system is created, and that the licenses of the plaintiffs be reinstated.

According to the lawsuit, some 900,000 licenses are suspended in Virginia for unpaid court fees and fines. The suit says over 100 of those suspensions involve people who are too poor to pay their court fees and fines.

CBS19 has reached out to the DMV for comment.

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