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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

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.


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.

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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