Robinson v. Purkey

County Clerks in Tennessee automatically suspend the driver’s license of persons who fail to pay their traffic debt within a 30-90 day window. No inquiry is made into a defendant’s ability to pay, and there are no payment plans. A person who never had a driver’s license but has traffic debt will be assigned a license number and then the Department of Safety and Homeland Security suspends it. Statute authorizes suspension but the Court insist on automatic suspensions. Restricted driver’s licenses are largely unavailable, costly and only allow people to travel to and from work. Further, there is a reinstatement fee for suspended driver’s licenses.


Preliminary injunction issued. DSHS must:

  • Cease automatic driver’s license suspensions for failure to court fines and fees
  • Reinstate all licenses suspended for nonpayment of traffic debt
  • Waive reinstatement fees.
  • Licenses can only be suspended if legislature enacts a statute mandating a fact based inquiry as to the defendant’s ability to pay and the court finds that the person can afford to pay their traffic debt.

Attorney General has filed a Notice of Appeal with the 6th Circuit.

You can find a detailed summary and case documents via the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse and Civil Rights Corps. Additionally, you can read about a companion case, Thomas v. Haslam.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 (alleging due process and equal protection violations)
3:17-cv-1263 (M.D. Tenn.)
September 2017
Civil Rights Corps, NCLEJ, Just City, and Baker Donelson