Johnson v. Goodwin

Johnson v. Goodwin (Formerly Johnson v. Jessup) 

Case No. 1:18-cv-00467 (M.D. N.C. 2022)

On March 3, 2022, a federal court accepted a settlement in this class action lawsuit brought against the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) by state residents who had their licenses revoked for failure to pay fines, penalties, or court costs related to traffic offenses. 

Procedural History: 

  • On March 31, 2019, the District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled for the defendant, holding there wasn’t a violation of equal protection or due process.
  • Plaintiffs filed a timely appeal to Fourth Circuit on April 17, 2019.
  • The District Court’s acceptance of the settlement agreement resolved the disputes between the parties and dismissed that appeal without further ruling.

Terms of the Settlement Agreement:

According to the settlement, the DMV, without admitting fault, has agreed to notify drivers who previously had their licenses indefinitely revoked for failing to pay the court fines and fees, and set up a process by which they can seek a state court hearing to determine their eligibility      for a waiver of these costs and get their license reinstated. Among other agreements, the DMV agreed to:

  • For drivers whose licenses were suspended on or after May 30, 2015, (until the DMV is able to create new agreed upon forms):
    • The DMV will provide a summary of the steps necessary for drivers to request a hearing in order to have their license potentially reinstated to drivers at their last known mailing and email addresses.   
    • The DMV will send the notice even to those drivers’ whose licenses were revoked for reasons other than failure to pay.
  • For drivers whose licenses are suspended going forward (once new form notices are created):
    • The DMV will provide notice of how to request a hearing to potentially have their license reinstated and steps to prevent indefinite revocations to      drivers at their last known mailing and email addresses.
    • The DMV will send the revised notice even to drivers who have had their license revoked for reasons other than failure to pay.
  • The DMV also agrees to provide $30,000 to help fund the creation, monitoring, and administration of a help and resource website that will provide information, best practices, trainings, and other materials focused on increasing class members’ ability to obtain waiver/remittance relief using the Motion for Relief, resolve “failure to pay” suspensions, and reinstate their driving privileges with the DMV.

Underlying Issue: The issue in the underlying case and dismissed appeal was whether it was a violation of equal protection and due process for the state to revoke a person’s driver’s license due to a failure to pay court fines and costs for motor vehicle violations without first affirmatively determining that the person had ability to pay. 

  • Underlying Holding: The district court held that the revocation of a driver’s license for the reasons listed above do not violate equal protection and due process because the statute at issue meets rational basis review.  

You can read the settlement agreement in this case here

You can read the district court’s original opinion in Jessup v. North Carolina, 381 F. Supp. 3d 619 (M.D. N.C. 2019), which had been the basis for the appeal here.

You can read the district court’s order accepting the settlement and dismissing the appeal  here