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Robinson v. Purkey

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

June 11, 2018

FRED ROBINSON; ASHLEY SPRAGUE; JOHNNY GIBBS; and BRIANNA BOOHER, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
DAVID W. PURKEY, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, in his official capacity; DEBBIE MOSS, Circuit Court Clerk of Wilson County, Tennessee, in her official capacity; MELISSA HARRELL, Circuit Court Clerk of Rutherford County, Tennessee, in her official capacity; COREY LINVILLE, Court Clerk of the Municipal Court of Lebanon, Tennessee, in his official capacity; SUSAN GASKILL, Court Clerk of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, in her official capacity; WILSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE; RUTHERFORD COUNTY, TENNESSEE; LEBANON, TENNESSEE; and MT. JULIET, TENNESSEE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          ALETA A. TRAUGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Fred Robinson, Ashley Sprague, and Johnny Gibbs have filed a Motion to Certify Class (Docket No. 13) and a Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Docket No. 25). Susan Gaskill, Corey Linville, and the cities of Lebanon and Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, (“City Defendants”) have filed a Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 118), as have Melissa Harrell, Debby Moss, and Rutherford and Wilson Counties, Tennessee, (“County Defendants”) (Docket No. 121). David W. Purkey, the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (“TDSHS”), has filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Robinson, Sprague, and Gibbs (Docket No. 128) and a separate Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Brianna Booher (Docket No. 131), a later-added plaintiff. For the reasons set forth herein, the City and County Defendants' motions will be granted in part and denied in part, Purkey's motion regarding Booher will be denied, Purkey's motion regarding the other plaintiffs will be granted in part and denied in part, and the plaintiffs' class certification motion will be granted in part and denied without prejudice, in part, as moot. The court will set an evidentiary hearing regarding the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

         A. Driving in Tennessee

         The State of Tennessee generally prohibits drivers from using its streets and highways without a driver's license. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-301(a)(1). An applicant for a Tennessee driver's license must furnish certain required information and submit to an examination, including “an actual demonstration of ability to exercise ordinary and reasonable control in the operation of a motor vehicle.” Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 55-50-321, 55-50-322(a)(1)(A). Upon fulfilling the necessary requirements, a qualifying applicant will be granted a Tennessee driver's license.

         A license to drive, though, is not a license to drive however one wants. A driver has an ongoing obligation to comply with Tennessee's traffic laws-the violation of which, generally speaking, amounts to at least a Class C misdemeanor. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-103. For example:

• “[I]t is unlawful for any person to operate or drive a motor vehicle upon any highway or public road of [Tennessee] in excess of sixty-five miles per hour, ” with an exception for certain designated “controlled-access highways with four (4) or more lanes, ” where it is lawful to drive up to seventy miles per hour. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-152(a), (c).
• A driver who comes to a crosswalk that is not governed by a traffic-control signal “shall yield the right-of-way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-134(a)(1).
• “The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-124(a).

         The list goes on. Many, if not most, of the ordinary rules of the road that Tennesseans follow are not just good ideas or accepted customs, but codified entries into the state's criminal statutes.

         In addition to the state's criminal prohibition of those impermissible driving practices, local governments often set forth their own traffic laws that overlap significantly with the state's. See, e.g., Mt. Juliet, Tenn., Code, ch. 2, art. VI § 2-154; Lebanon, Tenn., Code, tit. 15, ch. 1 § 15-120. “[P]roceedings for a municipal ordinance violation are civil in nature, at least in terms of technical application of procedure . . . .” City of Chattanooga v. Davis, 54 S.W.3d 248, 259 (Tenn. 2001). Nevertheless, Tennessee courts have observed that such ordinances reflect a “clear intent . . . to punish the [violator] and to deter similar conduct in the future” that is akin to the concerns animating the state's criminal traffic laws. City of Knoxville v. Brown, 284 S.W.3d 330, 338 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2008).

         B. Traffic Violations and the Accumulation of “Traffic Debt”

         Not every violation of a traffic law, of course, results in an enforcement action. Indeed, it does not go beyond the bounds of ordinary judicial notice to observe that some prohibitions, such as the laws against speeding or following too closely, are violated routinely on the state's roads by ordinary drivers and that, often, those drivers simply go on with the rest of their day without facing any legal consequences for their violations. Sometimes, though, a violation does result in enforcement-often, because the violation was witnessed by a law enforcement officer who elected to perform a traffic stop. Between 2011 and 2015, there were nearly two million traffic stops in the Nashville metropolitan area alone-about 786 per 1, 000 driving-aged residents.[2](Docket No. 111 ¶ 104.e.) The plaintiffs estimate that, in Wilson and Rutherford Counties, there are about 400 traffic stops per 1, 000 driving-aged residents per year. (Id. ¶ 104.f.)

         Prosecution of a traffic violation typically begins with “a written citation or an electronic citation prepared by a law enforcement officer on paper or on an electronic data device with the intent the citation shall be filed, electronically or otherwise, with a court having jurisdiction over the alleged offense.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-207(a). “The traffic citation . . . demand[s] the person cited to appear in court at a stated time and . . . state[s] the name and address of the person cited, the name of the issuing officer, and the offense charged.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-207(c)(1). A driver may choose to simply concede the violation and pay any related fines and costs before the scheduled court date. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-207(f). Otherwise, a driver must appear in court to either contest or concede the violation. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-207(g).

         If the driver is convicted of the traffic offense for which she was cited, she may face a number of consequences. See, e.g., Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cty. v. McClard, No. 01A01-9312-CV-00543, 1994 WL 665214, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 23, 1994) (discussing driver, cited and found guilty of speeding, ordered into the state's Driver Improvement Program); see also Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 55-10-601 to -618 (Motor Vehicle Habitual Offenders Act); Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 1340-01-04-.02 (discussing TDSHS's “driver point system . . . designed to identify those drivers whose records reflect a continuous disrespect for traffic laws, and a disregard for the safety of other persons on the highways” using a system of “point value[s] . . . assessed for each accident and moving violation conviction”). As relevant to this case, a driver found guilty of a traffic violation may find herself obligated to pay not only the fine associated with her violation, but a substantial additional amount consisting of costs and litigation taxes. The plaintiffs refer to these combined financial liabilities as “traffic debt, ” a nomenclature the court will adopt for ease of discussion.

         1. Fines

         Generally speaking, a Class C misdemeanor is punishable by “not greater than thirty (30) days [imprisonment] or a fine not to exceed fifty dollars ($50.00), or both.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-111(e)(3). Some traffic violations, however, may result in higher fines. See. e.g., Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-12-139(c)(2) (imposing fine of up to $300 based on driver's violation of driver financial responsibility statute). Fines based on the defendant's violation of municipal ordinances covering the same conduct may add to the driver's liability. See, e.g., Lebanon, Tenn., Code. tit. 15, ch. 1 § 15-128(4) (imposing civil municipal fine of $50 for financial responsibility violation “in addition to any other penalty prescribed by the laws of this state.”). “[T]he defendant's ability to pay the fine is a factor in the establishment of the fine, ” but “it is not a controlling factor.” State v. Butler, 108 S.W.3d 845, 854 (Tenn. 2003) (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-207(a)(7)).

         The court imposing a fine is permitted to choose from a number of options regarding the timeline for payment:

When any court of this state, including municipal courts for violation of municipal ordinances, imposes a fine upon an individual, the court may direct as follows:
(1) That the defendant pay the entire amount at the time sentence is pronounced;
(2) That the defendant pay the entire amount at some later date;
(3) That the defendant pay the fine in specified portions or installments at designated periodic intervals and that the portions be remitted to a designated official, who shall report to the court in the event of any failure to comply with the order; or
(4) Where the defendant is sentenced to a period of probation as well as a fine, that payment of the fine be a condition of the sentence.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-101(a). A court that imposes a fine retains jurisdiction and is empowered to release the fine, in whole or in part, “for good cause.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-102; see also Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-104(a) (permitting court to waive all or portion of fine or revise payment schedule based on defendant's inability to pay).

         2. Assessed Costs

         Tennessee requires that, generally speaking, “[a] defendant convicted of a criminal offense shall pay all the costs that have accrued in the cause.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-25-123(a). “Costs” are defined to include “all costs accruing under existing laws on behalf of the state or county, as the case may be, for the faithful prosecution and safekeeping of the defendant, including the cost of boarding juries and that of the jailer, ” Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-25-133, as well as “all costs incident to the arrest and safekeeping of the defendant, before and after conviction, due and incident to the prosecution and conviction, and incident to the carrying of the judgment or sentence of the court into effect, ” Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-25-104. With regard to municipal violations, Tennessee law allows court costs to be set by ordinance. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-18-304.

         “[T]he presiding judge of a court of general sessions may suspend the court costs . . . for any indigent criminal defendant, as in the presiding judge's opinion the equities of the case require.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-25-123. If costs were assessed for a civil violation in a municipal court, then the defendant may appeal de novo to circuit court, where “the presiding judge shall be authorized, in the presiding judge's discretion, to apportion the cost . . . as in the presiding judge's opinion the equities of the case demand.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-12-119(b). The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that, regardless of whether a defendant is indigent, “the decision of whether to grant a waiver of costs still rests within the court's discretion.” State v. Black, 897 S.W.2d 680, 684 (Tenn. 1995); see also Waters v. Ray, No. M2008-02086-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 5173718, at *5 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 29, 2009) (endorsing holding of Black).

         3. Litigation Tax

         Tennessee's constitution grants the General Assembly a number of specific powers of taxation, including the “power to tax . . . privileges.” Tenn. Const. art. II, § 28. Pursuant to that power, the state levies “privilege tax[es] on litigation” in various amounts, depending on the type of case at issue. Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-602. For example, “[t]here is levied a privilege tax on litigation of seventeen dollars and seventy-five cents ($17.75) in all civil cases in this state in general sessions court, when not exercising state court jurisdiction, ” and a “a privilege tax on litigation of thirteen dollars and seventy-five cents ($13.75) in all civil cases in this state in the court of appeals or the supreme court.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-602(c), (d). In criminal cases, “[t]here is levied a privilege tax on litigation instituted in this state, of twenty-nine dollars and fifty cents ($29.50) on all criminal charges, upon conviction or by order.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-602(a).

         Just as the amount of the tax varies between different types of cases, so too does the issue of when the litigation tax becomes due. See, e.g., Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-603(a)(1) (directing the clerk to collect tax “[u]pon the commencement of an original civil action, from the plaintiff, except when such action is brought pursuant to a pauper's oath”); (a)(3) (directing the clerk to collect tax “[u]pon the filing in any civil action of an appeal, or of an appeal in the nature of a writ of error or certiorari, from one court to another, from the appellant, except when such appeal is brought pursuant to a pauper's oath”). In a criminal case, the tax is due “[u]pon a finding of guilt, plea of guilty, or submission to fine in a criminal action from the defendant.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-603(a)(2).

         The collection of litigation taxes is delegated to “[t]he clerks of the various courts” in which litigation takes place. Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-603(a). The clerk then has an obligation to remit the state litigation tax to Tennessee's department of revenue. If the clerk fails to transmit the tax collected, the amount improperly withheld “shall be a debt of the clerk.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-605(a)(1).

         Counties and municipalities are also given authority to levy certain “local litigation tax[es]” devoted to specific, statutorily defined purposes, including building or upgrading the jails and workhouses, Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-601(b)(1); purchasing and maintaining hardware and software related to record keeping, Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-601(b)(7)(B); providing security to courthouses, Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-601(b)(6); and “substance abuse prevention purposes, ” Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-601(h).

         Tennessee's statutes appear to acknowledge that it is within a judge's power to waive litigation tax, although they also suggest that doing so improperly could result in judicial discipline. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-605(c).

         C. Mechanisms for Recouping Traffic Debt

         If an individual fails to pay her traffic debt, the clerk's office charged with collecting the debt has a number of options. “[A] fine may be collected in the same manner as a judgment in a civil action.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-105(a). The same is true for costs and litigation taxes: “The district attorney general or the county or municipal attorney, as applicable, may, in that person's discretion, and shall, upon order of the court, institute proceedings to collect the fine, costs and litigation taxes as a civil judgment.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-105(c). The tools available for collection of a judgment-and, therefore, for collection of traffic debt-include garnishment of wages or other sources of income (Tenn. R. Civ. P. 69.05), execution on realty (Tenn. R. Civ. P. 69.07), and execution on personalty (Tenn. R. Civ. P. 69.06). See also Tenn. Op. Att'y Gen. No. 06-135 (Aug. 21, 2006) (discussing application of Rule 69 collection mechanisms in criminal cases).

         A clerk's office, moreover, is not forced to rely purely on its own personnel to effect collection. “After a fine, costs, or litigation taxes have been in default for at least six (6) months, the district attorney general or criminal or general sessions court clerk may retain an agent to collect, or institute proceedings to collect, or establish an in-house collection procedure to collect, fines, costs and litigation taxes.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-105(d)(1). Similarly, “[t]he governing body of any municipality may by ordinance authorize the employment of a collection agency to collect fines and costs assessed by the municipal court where the fines and costs have not been collected within sixty (60) days after they were due.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24- 105(e)(1). A municipal court also “may authorize the chief of police to collect and receipt for fines and costs.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 6-21-507(b).

         If traditional collection methods are insufficient, more coercive options are available against defendants who are capable of paying but refuse to, in particular with regard to fines. The court that imposes a fine also has the option of holding a person who has failed to pay in “contempt upon a finding by the court that the defendant has the present ability to pay the fine and willfully refuses to pay.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-105(a).

         D. Permissive Suspension of a Driver's License for Nonpayment of Traffic Debt

         The plaintiffs do not challenge the fact that traffic debt was assessed against them or that the relevant clerks' offices can resort to the ordinary tools of collection to recoup that debt. They challenge one specific consequence of nonpayment: TDSHS's suspension of a driver's license when it receives a notice of nonpayment of traffic debt from a clerk's office. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-502(a)(1), (a)(1)(H)-(I). TDSHS “is authorized to suspend the license of an operator or chauffeur upon a showing by its records or other sufficient evidence that the licensee, ” inter alia, “[h]as been finally convicted of any driving offense in any court and has not paid or secured any fine or costs imposed for that offense” or “[h]as failed to appear in any court to answer or to satisfy any traffic citation issued for violating any statute regulating traffic.”[3]Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-502(a)(1), (a)(1)(H)-(I). The parties agree that the “driving offense[s]” mentioned in Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-502 (a)(1)(H) include violations of both state and local driving laws.

         Under Tennessee law, county and municipal court clerks are required to report convictions for violations of traffic laws to TDSHS. Tenn. Code. Ann. § 55-10-306(b)(1). The local clerks' offices are not, however, required to provide TDSHS with any particular information regarding their success-or lack thereof-in securing payment. (Docket No. 111 ¶ 31.) Accordingly, while the power granted to TDSHS under Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-502(a)(1)(H) and (I) technically arises whenever TDSHS discovers “by its records or other sufficient evidence” that the driver is eligible for suspension, there appears to be no practical or legal reason that TDSHS would have that necessary information without an affirmative decision by local authorities to relay it.

         According to the plaintiffs, “most if not all county and municipal court clerks” have adopted a policy and practice of informing TDSHS of a driver's nonpayment after a certain period of time. (Docket No. 111 ¶ 32.) That notice, the plaintiffs allege, invariably results in a suspension, because, while the language of Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-502(a) is, on its face, plainly permissive in nature-giving TDSHS only the authority, but not the duty, to suspend the license of the driver-TDSHS's practice is “to suspend the license of every person about whom it has received notification of nonpayment of Traffic Debt, unless the Department receives subsequent notification from the clerk that the Traffic Debt has been paid.” (Docket No. 111 ¶ 34.)

         TDSHS is required to notify a driver facing suspension in writing “[p]rior to suspending the license.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-502(a)(1)(I). The driver is then permitted to request “a hearing to show that there is an error in the records received by the department.” Id. That right to a hearing, however, does not contemplate any consideration of a driver's ability to pay her traffic debt. While Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-502(a) does not, by its language, preclude TDSHS from declining to suspend the licenses of drivers who are indigent, it has no policy of doing so and no process for assessing a driver's indigence. (Docket No. 111 ¶ 34.)

         E. Availability of Payment Plans as an Alternative to Suspension

         Tennessee law expressly contemplates that a county or municipal court may offer a driver the option of agreeing to a payment plan that would allow her to retain her license, despite failing to pay her traffic debt immediately in full:

A person whose license has been suspended, pursuant to subdivision (a)(1)(H) or (a)(1)(I), subject to the approval of the court, may pay any local fines or costs, arising from the convictions or failure to appear in any court, by establishing a payment plan with the local court or the court clerk of the jurisdiction. Notwithstanding § 55-50-303(b)(2), the fines and costs for a conviction of driving while suspended, when the conviction was a result of a suspension pursuant to subdivision (a)(1)(H) or (a)(1)(I), may be included in such payment plan, subject to the approval of the court.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-502(d)(2). TDSHS is authorized to reinstate the individual's driving privileges upon receipt of certification that the payment plan was approved and the driver has “satisfied all other provisions of law relating to the issuance and restoration of a driver license.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-502(d)(3).

         Subsection (d), however, does not on its face require a court or clerk's office to “approv[e]” payment plans or to “establish[]” a payment plan system.[4] Nor does it set forth any specific situation in which a driver would be entitled to a payment plan or any standard to which payment plans must adhere. Moreover, the provision of the statute governing the apportionment of costs for payment plan administration appears to acknowledge that some counties may participate in the offering of such plans while some counties may not:

Any county that participates in the payment plan authorized by this subsection (d) shall pay to the state any expense required to be paid for state implementation of this subsection (d). The payment shall be divided pro rata among the counties to which this subsection (d) applies. The payment shall be made prior to the implementation by the county of this subsection (d).

Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-502(d)(6) (emphasis added). For jurisdictions that do offer payment plans, there is no statutory requirement that the plan be calculated to be affordable based on the driver's economic status. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-502(d)(3)-(4).

         F. Consequences of Suspension and Possibility of Reinstatement

         TDSHS has suspended over 250, 000 driver's licenses for nonpayment of traffic debt since 2012. (Docket No. 111 ¶ 91.) The plaintiffs argue that statistics suggest that suspension rates correlate closely with poverty rates:

Across Tennessee, there is a strong, positive, and statistically significant correlation between the number of poor people in a county and the number of suspensions in that county. Controlling for county size, counties with higher poverty rates have significantly more suspensions than do counties with lower poverty rates.

(Id. ¶ 94.) Driving on a suspended license is a Class B Misdemeanor, for the first offense, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both. Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 40-35-111(e)(2), 55-50-504(a)(1). For the second and subsequent offenses, driving on a suspended license is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, a fine of up to $2, 500, or both. Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 40-35-111(e)(1), 55-50-504(a)(2). As a result, a person's conviction for driving on a suspended license may lead to the imposition of additional fines, costs, and litigation taxes.

         The extent of hardship that a particular person will suffer from complying with her license suspension will, of course, vary depending on the person's resources, needs, and lifestyle. Generally speaking, however, the plaintiffs have identified grounds for concluding that driving in Tennessee is, among other things, often important to obtaining and/or maintaining gainful employment. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that more than 92% of workers drive to work in a number of identified metropolitan areas, including Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Johnson City, Clarksville, and Jackson. (Docket No. 111 ¶ 96.) The plaintiffs further note that many common professions require a driver's license because of the associated travel. (Id. ¶ 97.) The public transportation available in the state, the plaintiffs note, is widely insufficient to meet the needs of these workers. (Id. ¶ 98.)

         A driver whose license was suspended for nonpayment of traffic debt may seek reinstatement. TDSHS, however, takes the position that it will not reinstate a license suspended for nonpayment of traffic debt unless the debtor “[s]ubmit[s] certification from the court(s) where convicted that all fines and costs have been paid.” (Id. ¶ 79 (quoting TDSHS “Reinstate Requirements document.”).) The driver must also pay certain applicable reinstatement fees. Such fees vary, based on the particulars of the individual suspension, and TDSHS regulations permit individuals with reinstatement fees over $200 to enter into payment plans. Those plans, however, require a $200 down payment along with a $25 processing fee and minimum quarterly payments of $300. Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 1340-02-05-.02, -.04, -.10.

         G. Loss of Driving Privileges on Other Grounds

         As a practical matter, Tennessee's system of suspending driver's licenses for nonpayment of traffic debt often overlaps with, or functions alongside, other aspects of the state's traffic laws, including, at times, other grounds for rescinding an individual's driving privileges. A few of those other grounds are particularly relevant to this case, either because they illustrate the broader structure in which TDSHS's permissive suspensions operate or because the application or non-application of those grounds to the individual plaintiffs is relevant to the issues raised by the defendants.

         1. Mandatory Revocation/Court-Ordered Loss of Driving Privileges for Conviction of Offenses Particularly Indicative of a Threat to Public Safety

         The Tennessee General Assembly has determined that convictions of certain offenses- particularly those reflecting a serious threat to public safety-warrant an automatic, mandatory loss of one's driving privileges. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-501. For example, “Tennessee Code Annotated sections 39-13-213(c) and 55-50-501(a)(3) require the revocation of a defendant's license when the defendant has been convicted of vehicular homicide.” State v. Claffey, No. W2016-00356-CCA-R3-CD, 2016 WL 7239018, at *8 n.6 (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 14, 2016). The same is true for any person convicted of “[f]ailure to stop and render aid as required under the laws of [Tennessee] in the event of a motor vehicle accident resulting in the death or personal injury of another, ” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-501(a)(4), or any person convicted of reckless driving twice within the same twelve months, Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-501(a)(6). Indeed, revocation is mandated upon the TDSHS's receipt of notice of “[a]ny felony in the commission of which a motor vehicle is used.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-501(a)(3).

         If an individual is convicted of DUI, the convicting court “shall prohibit [her] from driving a vehicle in [Tennessee] for” a period of increasing length for each conviction-one year for the first offense, two for the second, six for the third, and eight for any thereafter. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-404(a)(1). TDSHS also revokes the defendant's driver's license based on the DUI conviction. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-501(a)(2).

         2. Mandatory Suspension for Violation of Financial Responsibility Law

         Tennessee's “Financial Responsibility Law requires motorists who have been involved in an accident where anyone is killed or injured, or an accident resulting in more than $400 in damage to the property of any one person, to show proof of financial responsibility”-most commonly through proof of insurance. Purkey v. Am. Home Assur. Co., 173 S.W.3d 703, 706 (Tenn. 2005) (citing Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 55-12-105, -139). A driver is also required to show proof of financial responsibility “[a]t the time the driver of a motor vehicle is charged with any violation under [the state's motor vehicle safety laws or] any other local ordinance regulating traffic.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-12-139(b)(1)(A). Violation of the financial responsibility law is a Class C misdemeanor. Am. Home Assur. Co., 173 S.W.3d at 706 (citing § 55-12-139(c)). By statute, the TDSHS “shall suspend the driver license of the person convicted of” a violation of the law “[u]pon receipt by the commissioner of a record of conviction of failing to show evidence of financial responsibility.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-12-115(a). A driver seeking reinstatement of a license that was suspended for violation of the Financial Responsibility Law must submit evidence of financial responsibility, in addition to paying required fees. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-12-115(b).

         3. Mandatory Revocation for Failure to Pay Criminal Fines, Costs, and/or Litigation Tax for Over One Year

         Since 2011, Tennessee statutes have required the revocation of the driver's license of anyone who fails to pay fines, costs, and litigation taxes related to a criminal conviction for over a year. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-105(b)(1). “The license shall remain revoked until such time as the person whose license has been revoked provides proof to the commissioner of safety that all litigation taxes, court costs, and fines have been paid.” Id. A person whose license was revoked may apply to the court that imposed the debt for the issuance of a restricted license for the purposes of engaging in certain limited activities. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-105(h). The issuance of a restricted license, however, is within the “authority and discretion” of the court. Id. A section 40-24-105(h) license is valid for one year, after which the driver may seek renewal.

         H. The Plaintiffs' Suspensions

         1. Robinson

         Fred Robinson is a 32-year-old resident of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. (Docket No. 111 ¶ 112.) Robinson suffers from severe ulcerative colitis and cirrhosis of the liver, as well as severe internal bleeding due to chronic stomach ulcers. (Id.) Robinson's medical conditions place him in constant pain and have rendered him unable to perform remunerative work. (Id. ¶¶ 112-13.) Robinson has substantial medical expenses, including a regimen of approximately twenty prescription medications, some of which he sometimes forgoes because he cannot afford them. (Id. ¶ 113.) He is treated by a gastroenterologist over thirty miles from his home, whose office he cannot practicably visit without relying on motor vehicle transportation. (Id. ¶ 114.) Robinson's physician has recommended that Robinson begin consultation for a liver transplant with doctors based in Memphis, approximately 250 miles from his home. (Id. ¶ 115.) Robinson's sole source of income is a monthly Social Security Disability benefit of $759, which falls significantly short of his living expenses. (Id. ¶ 113.)

         On June 24, 2016, while driving his sister's car in Wilson County, Robinson received misdemeanor traffic citations for speeding and failure to provide evidence of financial responsibility at the time of his citation. (Id. ¶ 116.) Those citations threatened to impose a total of $441 in traffic debt, should Robinson fail to successfully contest the charges. (Id.) Robinson's initial court appearance was scheduled for August 1, 2016, but he did not attend, due, he says, to his ongoing medical conditions. (Id. ¶ 118.) On August 16, 2016, the Wilson County Circuit Court Clerk's Office sent TDSHS notification that Robinson had failed to appear for his court date. (Id. ¶ 119.) The next day, TDSHS sent Robinson a letter informing him that his license would be suspended in thirty days if he did not pay his traffic debt. (Id. ¶ 120.) Consistently with TDSHS's policy, the letter informed Robinson that he could request a hearing “limited to the issue of whether or not the citation has been satisfied prior to the proposed date of suspension.” (Id. ¶ 121.)

         On October 20, 2016, Robinson, represented by counsel, pled guilty, in Wilson County General Sessions Court, to speeding and failing to provide evidence of financial responsibility. (Id. ¶ 123.) The court assessed $441 of traffic debt-$169 for the speeding charge and $272 for the violation of the Financial Responsibility Law. (Id. ¶ 124.) Robinson's attorney requested, to the Wilson County General Sessions Clerk's Office, that Robinson be placed on a payment plan. (Id. ¶ 126.) The clerk, however, had, and continues to have, a policy of not allowing payment plans or partial payment through her office. (Id. ¶ 127.)

         On October 23, 2016, TDSHS lifted Robinson's suspension for failure to appear. Shortly thereafter, however, the Wilson County Court Clerk's office notified TDSHS that Robinson had not paid his traffic debt. (Id. ¶¶ 130-31.) On November 23, 2016, TDSHS suspended Robinson's license, under Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-12-115, based on his conviction under the Financial Responsibility Law. On December 23, 2016, TDSHS placed an additional suspension on his license for nonpayment of his traffic debt. (Id. ¶¶ 132-33.) In order to lift the traffic debt-related suspension, Robinson would need to pay both the $441 in traffic debt that he owes to the clerk's office and an additional $323 reinstatement fee. (Id. ¶¶ 136-38.)

         2. Sprague

         Ashley Sprague is a 26-year-old resident of Lebanon, Tennessee. She is a single mother of five children, one of whom lives with her. Her other four children live with their grandparents, over thirty miles from Sprague's home, because Sprague cannot afford to care for them. (Id. ¶ 146.) At the time that Sprague received the traffic citations that initially gave rise to her involvement in this case, she was working as a Waffle House server, making $2.13/hour plus tips. (Id. ¶ 150.) Later, after a period of unemployment, Sprague started working at a Speedway service station, where she earned slightly more than she made at Waffle House. (Id. ¶ 155.) Neither job allowed her to meet her ordinary living expenses, nor was she able to maintain either form of employment after, as described below, she lost her lawful ability to drive to and from work. (Id. ¶¶ 150, 155, 182.) Without reliable transportation, Sprague's only employment option was working for her parents' cleaning business, from which she was only able to take home $150 per week. (Id. ¶ 183.) Since her license was restored via a temporary restraining order issued in this case, Sprague has been able to find work at another Waffle House location, where her pay- though still limited-exceeds what she was able to make working for her parents. (Id. ¶ 188.)

         In April 2015, Sprague was issued a civil traffic citation by the City of Mt. Juliet for speeding and failure to provide evidence of financial responsibility. Although the maximum fine for each municipal violation was $50, the total traffic debt arising out of those violations amounted to $477.50. (Id. ¶ 147-49.) In July 2015, the Mt. Juliet Municipal Court Clerk informed TDSHS that Sprague had not paid her traffic debt. (Id. ¶ 151.) In September 2015, TDSHS suspended Sprague's driver's license based on that nonpayment. (Id. ¶ 152.) Sprague does not believe that she received any notice of her suspension, despite the fact that she was residing at the address on file with TDSHS. (Id. ¶¶ 153-54.)

         Unaware of her suspension, Sprague continued to drive. In March 2016, Sprague was issued a civil traffic citation by the City of Lebanon in the amount of $224.50 for failure to provide evidence of financial responsibility. The officer who issued the March 2016 citation did not inform Sprague that she was operating on a suspended license or cite her for doing so. (Id. ¶ 156.) In May 2016, Sprague was again issued civil traffic citations by the City of Lebanon, this time for driving with an expired registration, failure to have proof of insurance, and driving on a suspended license. The total amount of these citations was $244. According to Sprague, the May 2016 citation was her first notice that her license had been suspended. (Id. ¶¶ 157.) Altogether, Sprague had accumulated $946 in traffic debt to the Cities of Mt. Juliet and Lebanon by the end of May 2016. (Id. ¶ 158.)

         In July 2016, Sprague attempted to pay $80 toward her Lebanon traffic debt but was informed, by the Lebanon Municipal Court Clerk, that the office did not accept partial payment. Accordingly, Sprague would be required to pay her traffic debt in lump sums of nearly $500 each to the relevant jurisdictions. (Id. ¶ 159.) On July 25, 2016, Sprague entered a conditional guilty plea, in Wilson County General Sessions Court, to the charge of driving on a suspended license. (Id. ¶ 160.) By the terms of her plea, Sprague's charges would be dropped if she could get her license reinstated by her next court date on March 27, 2017. (Id. ¶ 161.)

         On August 16 and September 16, 2016, the Lebanon Municipal Court sent notice to TDSHS indicating that Sprague had not paid her traffic debt in Lebanon. (Id. ¶ 162.) TDSHS entered additional suspensions related to those notices on September 15 and October 17, 2016. (Id. ¶ 164.) Sprague has obtained her driver record from TDSHS and claims that it contains no indication that her license has been suspended for violation of the financial responsibility statute; all of the listed suspensions are related to traffic debt. (Id. ¶¶ 164-67.)

         On March 27, 2017, Sprague pled guilty to driving on a suspended license. The Wilson County General Sessions Court gave Sprague until April 3, 2017, to enter into a payment plan with the court's clerk for the $439.50 in traffic debt related to that charge. Sprague did enter into such a payment plan. She has, in her words, “managed to make minimal payments on this plan.” (Id. ¶¶ 173-74.) The payment plan, however, does not address the $946 that Sprague owes regarding the Mt. Juliet and Lebanon municipal charges. (Id.) In order to have her traffic debt suspensions lifted under TDSHS's policies, Sprague would have to satisfy the $946 in traffic debt and pay a minimum of $200 (plus a $25 fee) toward a total of $388 in reinstatement fees. (Id. ¶ 178.)

         3. Gibbs

         Johnny Gibbs is a 36-year-old resident of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. (Id. ¶ 193.) When this case was filed, Gibbs was living in a hotel room with his mother, father, and sister. Both of Gibbs's parents have suffered from significant health problems. (Id. ¶¶ 194-95.) At some point, Gibbs's mother was hospitalized and-after a brief respite made possible by charitable assistance-the Gibbs family was evicted from the hotel for nonpayment of rent. Lacking any other affordable option, the family began living in a car and tent. (Id. ¶¶ 195-96.) Gibbs and his family struggle to afford the basic necessities of life and have gone entirely without food for as long as two days. (Id. ¶ 197.) In 2016, while riding his bicycle home in the dark following a closing shift he had worked at an Outback Steakhouse, Gibbs was struck by a car, which irreparably damaged the bicycle and left Gibbs injured. (Id. ¶ 214.) Gibbs now works as a day laborer. He is able to find work once or twice a week and typically earns $30 to $40 per day when he does. (Id. ¶ 212.)

         In 1999, Gibbs's license was suspended, for truancy, until he turned 21 years old. (Id. ¶ 198.) In 2002, while that suspension was still in force, Gibbs received a citation in Rutherford County for driving on a suspended license. That violation resulted in $404.50 in traffic debt, which he was unable to pay due to the limited income he was receiving for part-time construction work. (Id.) After Gibbs turned 21, he attempted to obtain a new driver's license but was told that he could not do so because his license remained suspended. (Id. ¶ 199.) In 2006, Gibbs received another citation for driving on a suspended license. That citation resulted in $742 in traffic debt. (Id. ¶ 3) Gibbs'stotal traffic debt owed to Rutherford County is now $1, 146.50. (Id. ¶ 212.)

         In July 2017, Gibbs's license was revoked, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-105(b), for nonpayment of fines, costs, and litigation taxes arising out of criminal charges other than the traffic violations at issue here. (Id. ¶ 205.) Gibbs is challenging the constitutionality of that revocation in Thomas v. Purkey, No. 3:17-cv-00005 (M.D. Tenn.).

         4. Booher

         Brianna Booher is a 21-year-old resident of Bristol, Tennessee. She is a single mother of two children, ages 2 and 4. (Id. ¶ 215.) At the time of the filing of the plaintiffs' Corrected Amended Complaint, Booher had most recently worked at a call center, where she made $9 per hour. That call center, however, was located about a forty-minute drive from her home, and she was unable to maintain her employment because she could not reliably commute to work. (Id. ¶ 219-22.) She relies on family support for her and her daughters' basic subsistence. (Id. ¶ 222.)

         In June 2016, Booher received two citations in Bristol City Court for driving with a broken taillight and speeding. Those citations resulted in traffic debt of $219.50. (Id. ¶¶ 224-25.) In August 2016, she received three citations in Bristol City Court, for failing to wear a seatbelt, driving with a broken taillight, and failure to show proof of financial responsibility. Those citations resulted in additional traffic debt of $164.75. (Id. ¶ 227.)

         Sometime before the end of 2016, the City of Bristol sent notice of Booher's nonpayment to TDSHS. On December 31, 2016, TDSHS suspended her license. (Id. ¶¶ 227-29.) On August 3, 2017, Booher was stopped and charged with driving on a suspended license and driving with a broken tail light. She says that this stop was the first time that she learned her license had been suspended. (Id. ¶¶ 231-32.) She went to the Bristol City Clerk's Office and sought to make a partial payment toward her traffic debt, but the city's policy was to require payment in full. (Id. ¶¶ 233-34.) In October 2017, Booher was stopped two more times. The first time, she was charged with driving on a suspended license and failure to provide evidence of financial responsibility. The second time, she was charged with driving on a suspended license and speeding. (Id. ¶¶ 235-36.) She does not allege that she has yet accrued traffic debt related to these new charges.

         Booher has paid TDSHS a $140 reinstatement fee, for which she borrowed money from her family while under the mistaken belief that paying the reinstatement fee alone would be sufficient to have her driving privileges restored. After paying the fee, however, Booher was still required to satisfy her $384.25 in existing traffic debt before she will be eligible to have her suspension lifted. (Id. ¶¶ 237-39.)

         While investigating this case, however, TDSHS discovered that three of the citations against Booher lacked necessary signatures. (Docket No. 132-5 ¶ 4.) Based on that discovery, TDSHS lifted Booher's suspension and announced that it would return her reinstatement fee. (Id.)

         I. Procedural History

         On September 13, 2017, Sprague, Gibbs, and Robinson filed the initial Class Action Complaint in this matter, naming the following defendants: Purkey, in his official capacity as TDSHS Commissioner; Moss, in her official capacity as Circuit Court Clerk of Wilson County; Harrell, in her official capacity as Circuit Court Clerk of Rutherford County; Linville, in his official capacity as Court Clerk of the Municipal Court of Lebanon; Gaskill, in her official capacity as Court Clerk of the City Court of Mt. Juliet; Wilson County; Rutherford County; the City of Lebanon; and the City of Mt. Juliet. (Docket No. 1 at 1.)

         On September 19, 2017, the plaintiffs filed a Motion to Certify Class. (Docket No. 13.) They seek certification of a Statewide Class defined as “[a]ll persons whose Tennessee driver's licenses have been or will be suspended under Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-502(a)(1)(H) or (I) for nonpayment of traffic debt and who cannot now and could not at the time of suspension afford to pay such debt.” (Id. at 1.) They also seek the certification of three subclasses:

The Wilson County Subclass. All members of the Statewide Class whose driver's licenses have been or will be suspended at the instance of Wilson County and/or its Clerks.
The Rutherford County Subclass. All members of the Statewide Class whose driver's licenses have been or will be suspended at the instance of Rutherford County and/or its Clerks.
The Multi-Barrier Subclass. All members of the Statewide Class who, as of the date of judgment in this action, also had outstanding driver's license revocations under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-105(b) for nonpayment of fines, fees, costs and restitution arising from criminal proceedings (“Court Debt”).

(Id.)

         On September 21, 2017, Robinson and Sprague filed a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”), requesting that Purkey immediately be required to restore Robinson and Sprague's driver's licenses without payment of traffic debt or reinstatement fees. (Docket No. 24.) Gibbs, Robinson, and Sprague also filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, requesting, more broadly, that the court: (1) order Purkey to reinstate the driver's licenses of all persons currently suspended for nonpayment of traffic debt and provide appropriate notice; (2) enjoin Purkey from engaging in further suspensions for nonpayment of traffic debt without an appropriate procedure that would allow the driver to demonstrate her inability to pay, entitling her to be excepted from suspension; and (3) ordering all City and County Defendants to refrain from sending TDSHS notice of nonpayment unless they implement a process by which the relevant debtor can demonstrate her inability to pay, entitling her to be excepted from suspension. (Docket No. 25 at 1-2.)

         On September 22, 2017, the court filed an Order noting that, although Robinson and Sprague sought immediate restoration of their driving privileges, their Complaint did not challenge the constitutional validity of their suspensions for violating the Financial Responsibility Law. The court therefore ordered them to file proof that they had come into compliance with the law by obtaining adequate insurance. (Docket No. 38.) On November 26, 2017, they did so, filing proof of insurance for both drivers. (Docket No. 41.)

         On October 4, 2017, the court held a hearing on the requested TRO. The next day, the court issued an order granting the TRO and ordering the restoration of Robinson's and Sprague's driver's licenses. (Docket No. 63.) The court originally set a hearing regarding whether the TRO should be converted to a preliminary injunction for October 20, 2017. (Id. at 2.) On October 16, 2017, the parties filed a Joint Motion to Suspend Briefing Deadlines and Continue Hearing Date, in which they informed the court that they had agreed to an extension of the terms of the TRO until such future time that the request for a preliminary injunction could be full addressed. (Docket No. 68.) In that joint motion, the parties stated that they anticipated that a full preliminary injunction hearing would be held between January and March 2018. (Id. at 1.) The court granted the motion and suspended deadlines until the parties could submit a joint briefing schedule. (Docket No. 69.) On November 9, the parties submitted a proposed case management order stating that the parties now anticipated a preliminary injunction hearing in April or May 2018. (Docket No. 79 at 10.) An initial case management conference was held on November 13, 2017, after which the court set deadlines for motions to dismiss and responses. (Docket No. 87.) That order did not set a date certain for a preliminary injunction hearing. (Id. at 1.) In accordance with the agreed briefing schedule, the defendants filed a number of potentially dispositive motions. (Docket Nos. 88, 92, 95.) While those motions were pending, however, the plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint, which, among other things, added Booher as a plaintiff. (Docket No. 109). Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs filed a Corrected Amended Complaint making minor corrections. (Docket No. 111.)

         The Corrected Amended Complaint, like the original Complaint, raises three constitutional challenges to the state's laws governing suspension of driver's licenses for nonpayment of traffic debt pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983:

1. Count I alleges that the defendants' effecting and continuing the suspension of people's driver's licenses for nonpayment of traffic debt without any inquiry into, or consideration of, the license holder's ability to pay violates the right to fundamental fairness guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment (Id. ¶ 248);
2. Count II alleges that the defendants' effecting the suspension of driver's licenses with no notice or insufficient notice and no right to an ability-to-pay hearing violates the right to procedural fairness guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment (Id. ¶¶ 249- 50); and
3. Count III alleges that the defendants' effecting and continuing the suspension of driver's licenses from indigent people who owe traffic debt to the state and its counties and municipalities, but not imposing similar sanctions on other judgment debtors, violates the right to equal protection under law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment (Id. ¶ 251).

         The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief that would make permanent terms largely mirroring those requested in their request for preliminary injunction, as well as ...


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