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Stinnie v. Holcomb

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division

December 21, 2018

Damian Stinnie, ET AL, Plaintiffs,
v.
Richard D. Holcomb, in his official capacity as the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON, SENIOR UNITED STATUS DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The 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 be granted.

         I. Background

         This 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[1] 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 circumstances.” (Id.).

         In 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).

         II. Findings of Fact

         In assessing the appropriateness of this relief, the Court finds the following facts from the preliminary injunction record.

         A.

         1. Plaintiffs are Virginia residents whose licenses have been suspended due to failure to pay court fines and costs. (Dkt. 90 at 5).

         2. Plaintiff Adrainne Johnson, a resident of Charlottesville, Virginia, is the mother of three children. (Dkt. 113 (Hr'g Tr.) at 15).

         3. Johnson's license has been suspended “off and on since 2016, ” and is currently suspended for nonpayment of court fines and costs. (Id.).

         4. Due 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).

         5. 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).

         6. 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 18).

         7. Johnson's current income does not leave her with any money after necessary expenses each week. (Id. at 16).

         8. 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).[2]

         9. Plaintiffs Stinnie and Adams find themselves in similar circumstances. (See Dkt. 90-3 and 90-4).

         10. 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).

         11. Adams's license is currently suspended because she cannot afford to pay court fines and costs. (Dkt. 90-4 at 1).

         12. 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.).

         13. At 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).

         14. 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 at 1).

         15. 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).

         16. 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).

         B.

         17. 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).

         18. 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 45-47, 66).

         19. Rather, DMV inputs suspensions based on electronic data automatically transmitted from state court computers to DMV. (Id. at 46, 146-7).

         20. At sentencing hearings in Virginia state courts, the presiding judge assesses court fines and costs as well as their due date. (Id. at 45-46)

         21. At (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)).

         22. 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”).[3] (Hr'g Tr. at 43-44, 46).

         23. The date that costs become due may be years after the date of sentencing. (Id. at 46, 113).[4]

         24. If a person fails to pay assessed costs within 40 days of the designated date, a fines and costs indicator is automatically, electronically ...


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