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Federal court denies motion on NC DMV license revocations
Judge denies injunction
 
Published Monday, April 15, 2019 8:17 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | HERBERT L. WHITE
A federal judge dismissed an injunction request against the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles' policy of revoking drivers' licenses, even when low-income drivers can't afford to pay.

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A challenge to North Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles driver's license revocation is before a federal judge.


A federal court denied plaintiffs’ request for an injunction based on the contention that DMV policy creates an unfair burden on low-income drivers whose licenses are revoked because they’re unable to pay fines for traffic violations and associated court costs. Two due process claims will proceed.

“In conclusion, Plaintiffs have not shown that they are likely to succeed on either of their remaining claims under the Due Process Clause,” Chief District Judge Thomas Schroeder wrote in his March 31 order in U.S. District court in Winston-Salem. “Because Plaintiffs’ failure to satisfy any one of the four preliminary injunction factors is fatal to their motion, the court need not address the remaining factors and the motion will be denied.”


Seti Johnson, 28, a Charlotte resident and the lead plaintiff, sued DMV last year over its policy of taking away licenses from drivers who couldn’t afford to pay fines and court fees without providing alternatives. Johnson said he had to decide between paying off hundreds of dollars in traffic tickets and court costs or rent. He chose to clear the legal obligations, and lost his home. The class-action federal lawsuit seeks to change DMV’s policy. When the DMV is notified that a driver hasn’t paid a traffic fine or court cost, it enters a revocation order that becomes effective 60 days after mailing the notice. The order does not advise drivers they can petition for a hearing to keep their license.


“I can understand if you do trouble and you get tickets and you decide to make certain decisions and get pulled over, but it was at the point where the minute I leave my neighborhood they didn’t even have to read my tags to see if my car was good or not before they would turn around and pull me over just because they notice my car,” Johnson told The Post last month. “It’s really hard because I basically had to choose my tickets over my rent, which is why I’m back in Charlotte now.”


The Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina and Southern Coalition for Social Justice are litigating to block DMV’s practice, which they contend forces the poor deeper into poverty and violates the U.S. Constitution’s due process and equal protection guarantees under the 14th Amendment.


“We are disappointed that tens of thousands are going to continue to suffer simply because they are unable to pay,” Brooke said. “We are reviewing the decision to determine appropriate next steps,” SPLC Deputy Legal Director Sam Brooke said.


The plaintiffs wanted Schroeder to issue an injunction to prevent DMV from revoking licenses for nonpayment without providing sufficient notice and a hearing to determine whether drivers willfully didn’t pay.


During a 2017 traffic stop in Cabarrus County, where he lived at the time, Johnson learned his license had been revoked for unpaid traffic tickets. He was forced to use rent money to pay off more than $700 to reinstate his license, but was ticketed again for driving with a revoked license. The married father of three ultimately had to move in with family.


The charge was ultimately reduced, and Johnson was ordered to pay a $100 fine and $208 in court costs. Johnson was able to pay only $100, which resulted in an additional $20 fee because he couldn’t pay in full at the time. Without a job, he struggled to pay the remainder and feared he’s more at risk of losing his license.


The plaintiffs contend DMV’s policy strips low-income drivers who can’t afford fines and court costs of the means to support themselves and their families.
Without a license, more people will struggle to find work or stay unemployed as well as carry out obligations such as taking children to school or shopping. More than 436,000 drivers had their licenses indefinitely revoked by DMV for failure to pay fines and costs as of fall 2017.


The plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit Johnson v. Jessup want DMV’s revocation practices declared unconstitutional and restore licenses taken for nonpayment.

Comments

Mine is suspended right now because my ex husband took a car I bought and wrecked. Brakes and suspension were bad wasn't supposed to be on the road... He rear ended someone. I even tried to call the magistrate and talked to a deputy but without a court order giving me sole possession they said it was his car too. He told the responding officer that I was fine with him driving it and that I told him it had insurance. They call me to go get my car since he didn't have a license and when I got there he hit me with aiding and abbetting and insurance tickets. I go to the court house the very next day with all my paperwork to show that I didn't let him and that the car wasn't being driven and she dismissed it all.

Problem solved? Not even close. Eventually the people he hit insurance company hits him up for the money. They threaten to take his truck and not let him get his license. He says he doesn't care because he will get rides and tells them they can't touch stuff in his wife's name. Completely forgets to mention the separation etc..... So apparently they took mine too. I don't know when because I don't get mail there anymore. Apparently I had a chance to get a hearing, but I never knew. So I can either come up with right at 5k for his bill even though I tried to get help and couldn't or I can live without a license and have a big fat judgement on my credit. And the thing is that now the insurance company is aware that he owned the vehicle at the time of the accident and there was literally no way that I could have stopped him and they still won't acknowledge his ownership. I offered to show them our court papers and prove everything and they don't want to see it because he is never going to pay. There should be some kind of legal recourse if a company unethically ignores facts or continues to destroy someone's life to try to collect from the wrong person. That car came on a rollback and didn't even have a tag or inspection. Freaking nuts.

TBH I felt like given that he didn't have a license someone could have helped me or maybe just not everyone go entirely off his version when every detail was blame shifting when he rammed someone, but whatever.
Posted on May 4, 2020
 
The stupid red neck thinking of "I cant understand so it must not be so" is why the entire country sees southerners as stupid white trash. As you can see by the comments here. Its true!
Posted on January 11, 2020
 
Those of you that keep saying stop committing traffic violations are probably the ones that can't seem to put their phones down while driving. I have a driver license and can pay my court fines if need be . But there are lots of people that may commit a violation unintentionally that can't afford to pay court costs . Everyone was not born with Daddy and mommy giving them everything
Posted on September 26, 2019
 
I lost my Dribers license in 1989 and from then on i kept getting caught so they took my license indefinitely for not paying fines so i started paying fines but i still owe about 1500 more dollars but know im forced to pay that or medication is there any way i can get a hearing because i have no reckless or DUI'S...
Posted on April 15, 2019
 
I understand that losing your license can be a hardship but, why did you lose them in the first place? Was it because you did nothing wrong or was it because of what you did was wrong? The question I have is, what did you do? Now if you were NOT SPEEDING but was STOPPED for SPEEDING, or STOPPED for (DUI) but were NOT DRINKING, etc. I support you fully. However, if you VIOLATED the LAW because you didn't think you would get caught who's to blame? We ALL make mistakes at times and when we do, we should NOT play the blame game. Just take responsibility for (your) actions, and stop blaming others for (your) problems. When (we) do that, things always work out in (our) favor every time.
I hope this message will help someone.

Blessings
Posted on April 15, 2019
 
It's not just traffic tickets that they revoke your license failure to pay any court cost or fines they can revoke.
Posted on April 15, 2019
 
How about this...OBEY TRAFFIC LAWS! I mean... REALLY....this is a no brainer people! If you want to try your luck and get busted then don't pay your ticket MULTIPLE TIMES you're not very responsible and really don't deserve a license. Driving is a "privilege" that comes with a responsibility. The best thing you can do is change your paradigm of thinking!
Posted on April 15, 2019
 
They can still get an ID though free of charge, right?
Posted on April 15, 2019
 
I am just getting my license back after 30 years of not having one I could not afford to pay the fines and the lawyer to have them restored. Finally a relative is helping me with the money and so far it's cost me over $5,000 and over a year of taking classes and other things that I normally would not be able to pay for
Posted on April 15, 2019
 
The NC DMV are ABOVE the law. They can basically do whatever they damn well please, and there is nothing you can do about it but oblige.
Posted on April 15, 2019
 
Have a heart
Posted on April 15, 2019
 
Stop committing traffic violations
Posted on April 15, 2019
 

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