Mendoza v. Garrett

This case challenges the state of Oregon’s policy of suspending the driver’s licenses of people who cannot afford to pay fines and fees for traffic violations. When someone is delinquent in their payments, the court clerks notify the DMV, which suspends the person’s driver’s license and an additional $15 fee is imposed. Generally, a person must wait 20 years for the suspension to be lifted if they fail to pay the debt. If the court decides to offer the defendant a payment plan, monthly payment amounts are calculated based on the amount owed regardless of the person’s financial circumstances. The presumptive fine for driving with a suspended driver’s license is $440.00. Over 80% of Oregonians travel to work by car, and lower paying jobs require a driver’s license; public transportation isn’t easily accessible.


Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction was denied. The District Court found that Plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on their claims for the reasons detailed below.

  • Fundamental Fairness Claim under Griffin/Bearden: The challenged statutes did not implicate a fundamental constitutional right nor a suspect classification, and they were rationally related to the state’s legitimate interest in enforcing its traffic laws.
  • Strange Equal Protection Claim: The challenged statutes did not create an explicit exemption from protections available to other judgment debtors. Even if Strange were applicable, there was a rational relationship between the challenged statutes and the state’s legitimate interest in modifying driving conduct to comply with traffic laws.
  • Procedural Due Process Claim: Because (1) the interest at stake was not constitutionally fundamental, (2) there was little risk of erroneous deprivation “given that suspensions are triggered by the objective fact of nonpayment of the fines,” and the existence of “pre-deprivation notices” made it such that little probative value would be gained by additional or substitute procedural safeguards, and (3) the government had a strong interest in enforcing traffic fines to deter continuing traffic violations, the challenged Oregon statutes provided constitutionally adequate procedural due process.

Defendants then filed a motion to dismiss, which was ultimately granted, with prejudice for the reasons the District Court articulated in its discussion of why Plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims in the Court’s preliminary injunction opinion.

Plaintiffs submitted an unopposed motion to withdraw their motion to certify a class; the motion was granted. On June 11, 2019, Plaintiffs appealed the District Court’s decision granting Defendants’ motion to dismiss to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

You can read case documents here: Motion for Certification of a Class, Complaint, Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. You can also read more about the plaintiff.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 (alleging due process and equal protection violations)
September 2018
Oregon Law Center