United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division
K. MOON, SENIOR UNITED STATUS DISTRICT JUDGE.
plaintiffs in this putative class action have sued the
Commissioner of Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles,
challenging the constitutionality of Virginia Code §
46.2-395 (“§ 46.2-395”), which requires the
automatic suspension of drivers' licenses for failure to
pay state court fines and costs. Plaintiffs have moved for a
preliminary injunction to: (1) enjoin the Commissioner from
enforcing § 46.2-395; (2) remove current suspensions of
Plaintiffs' driver's licenses imposed under §
46.2-395; and (3) enjoin the Commissioner from charging a fee
to reinstate Plaintiffs' licenses where there are no
other current restrictions on their licenses. The parties
briefed the motion, and the Court held an evidentiary hearing
and oral argument. Based on the current record, the Court
concludes that Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits
of their procedural due process claim because the
Commissioner suspends licenses without an opportunity to be
heard. The motion for a preliminary injunction will therefore
case was first filed with this Court in July 2016 and was
dismissed without prejudice. (Dkt. 57). The Fourth Circuit
dismissed Plaintiffs' appeal for lack of appellate
jurisdiction. Stinnie v. Holcomb, 734 Fed.Appx. 858,
869 (4th Cir. 2018). The Fourth Circuit explained that this
Court's “grounds for dismissal [did] not clearly
indicate that no amendment in the complaint could cure the
defects in the plaintiff's case.” Id. at
861 (internal quotations omitted). Accordingly, on remand, in
September 2018, Plaintiffs submitted an amended complaint,
alleging that § 46.2-395 “as written and as
implemented by the [Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
(“DMV”) Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb
(“Commissioner”)] . . . is unconstitutional on
its face for failing to provide sufficient notice or hearing
to any driver before license suspension.” (Dkt. 84
¶ 5). Plaintiffs also allege § 46.2-395 is
“unconstitutional as applied to people who cannot
afford to pay due to their modest financial
their motion for preliminary injunction, Plaintiffs request
that this Court: “(1) enjoin the Commissioner from
enforcing Section 46.2-395 against Plaintiffs and the Future
Suspended Class Members without notice and determination of
ability to pay; (2) remove any current suspensions of
[Plaintiffs'] driver's licenses imposed under Section
46.2-395; and (3) enjoin the Commissioner from charging a fee
to reinstate the Plaintiffs' licenses if there are no
other restrictions on their licenses.” (Dkt. 90 at 2).
Findings of Fact
assessing the appropriateness of this relief, the Court finds
the following facts from the preliminary injunction record.
Plaintiffs are Virginia residents whose licenses have been
suspended due to failure to pay court fines and costs. (Dkt.
90 at 5).
Plaintiff Adrainne Johnson, a resident of Charlottesville,
Virginia, is the mother of three children. (Dkt. 113
(Hr'g Tr.) at 15).
Johnson's license has been suspended “off and on
since 2016, ” and is currently suspended for nonpayment
of court fines and costs. (Id.).
to her lack of a license, Johnson struggles to get to the
grocery store or meet her daughter's medical needs, and
cannot take her son to, or attend, any of his sporting
events. (Id. at 17, 19).
Johnson's lack of a license has impacted her employment,
causing her to lose a job, preventing her from being hired,
and frustrating her opportunities for advancement.
(Id. at 17- 19).
Johnson and her children currently share a single family home
with another family, but with a better paying job, she would
be able to improve her living situation. (Id. at
Johnson's current income does not leave her with any
money after necessary expenses each week. (Id. at
no time did any court inquire how much Johnson could afford
to pay or inform her about the availability of alternatives
to payments, and she has been unable to provide the requested
amount. (Id. at 38-41).
Plaintiffs Stinnie and Adams find themselves in similar
circumstances. (See Dkt. 90-3 and 90-4).
Stinnie describes a “cycle of debt, license suspension,
and more debt and incarceration for driving while
suspended” that prevents him from improving his
employment situation or meeting basic needs, such as medical
treatment and housing. (Dkt. 90-3 at 2).
Adams's license is currently suspended because she cannot
afford to pay court fines and costs. (Dkt. 90-4 at 1).
Adams's “rare and serious blood disorder” has
prevented her from maintaining steady employment, and
although she initially made payments on her court debt, she
could not “keep [them] up and support [herself] and
[her] son on [her] limited income.” (Id.).
no time before the suspension of their licenses were Stinnie
or Adams asked about their financial circumstances or reasons
for non-payment. (Dkt. 90-3 at 3; dkt. 90-4 at 2).
Plaintiffs Bandy and Morgan's licenses were suspended for
several years and were recently reinstated, but both face
imminent suspension because they cannot afford the payments
required by their payment plans. (Dkt. 90-6 at 1; dkt. 90-7
Bandy and Morgan are currently on installment plans
established to pay state court fines and costs, but they face
the decision of providing necessities for their families,
such as water and electricity, or paying monthly
installments. (Dkt. 90-6 at 2; dkt. 90-7 at 4).
There was no inquiry into Bandy or Morgan's financial
circumstances before or after their licenses were suspended.
(Dkt. 90-6 at 1; dkt. 90-7 at 1-2).
Loss of a driver's license adversely affects people's
ability to gain and maintain employment, often leading to a
reduction in income. (Hr'g Tr. at 112).
When suspension occurs pursuant to § 46.2-395, neither a
judge nor a clerk enters an order suspending the license or
notifies the debtor of a license suspension. (Id. at
Rather, DMV inputs suspensions based on electronic data
automatically transmitted from state court computers to DMV.
(Id. at 46, 146-7).
sentencing hearings in Virginia state courts, the presiding
judge assesses court fines and costs as well as their due
date. (Id. at 45-46)
(or within five days of) sentencing, a criminal defendant is
provided with a notice indicating possible license suspension
if he or she does not pay assessed costs by a designated
date. (Id. at 45; 67; 73; § 46.2-395(C)).
After sentencing, the court's disposition, assessed
costs, and the due date of any assessed costs are entered
into the Circuit Case Management System (“CCMS”)
and the Financial Accounting System
(“FAS”). (Hr'g Tr. at 43-44, 46).
date that costs become due may be years after the date of
sentencing. (Id. at 46, 113).
a person fails to pay assessed costs within 40 days of the
designated date, a fines and costs indicator is
automatically, electronically ...