Close

White et al. v. Shwedo et al.

Records provided by the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) indicate that more than 190,000 individuals had their driver’s licenses suspended for the nonpayment of traffic fines and fees as of May 31, 2019.

The DMV automatically and indefinitely suspends driver’s licenses whenever it receives a report from a court that an individual has not paid monetary penalties for traffic violations, including fines, fees, surcharges, court costs, and assessments. At no point prior to suspending an individual’s driver’s license does the DMV or the South Carolina Office of Motor Vehicle Hearings (OMVH) conduct an inquiry into an individual’s ability to pay and willfulness of nonpayment. Yet, in South Carolina, nine out of ten people rely on a driver’s license to pursue their livelihoods, and one out of six people endure poverty. The result: South Carolina’s wealth-based driver’s license suspension scheme robs more than 190,000 individuals of a crucial means of self-sufficiency and pushes many individuals deeper into poverty.

The notice individuals receive from the DMV regarding a pending driver’s license suspension for nonpayment makes clear that the only way for an individual to avoid driver’s license suspension is to pay their outstanding traffic fines and fees in full before the date on which the driver’s license suspension goes into effect. They must also pay a $100 reinstatement fee for each suspension for nonpayment. The notice does not explain or reference any alternative to full payment, nor does it set forth any process by which a person can contest a suspension for nonpayment on the basis of inability to pay. Notwithstanding the lack of notice, if an individual discovers that they can theoretically appeal the suspension, OMHV will not conduct a hearing unless the requester pays a $200 filing fee for each contested suspension. South Carolina law does not permit waiver of the $200 filing fee, nor of the $100 reinstatement fee.

Plaintiffs allege that South Carolina’s policy and practice of suspending the driver’s licenses of individuals who cannot afford to pay traffic fines and fees without first holding hearings to determine an individual’s ability to pay and the willfulness of their nonpayment(s) punishes individuals for their poverty. Further, they allege the policy and practice disproportionately harms Black individuals. Indeed, an analysis of DMV data demonstrates that Black individuals are 3.4 times more likely than non-Latinx white individuals to have their South Carolina driver’s license indefinitely suspended for the nonpayment of traffic fines and fees. More specifically, Plaintiffs allege that:

  1. The indefinite suspensions of driver’s licenses for nonpayments of traffic fines and fees without pre-deprivation hearings for determinations on ability to pay and willful failure to pay violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, as delineated in Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
  2. The failure to provide pre-deprivation hearings concerning indefinite driver’s license suspensions for the nonpayment(s) of traffic fines and fees without payment of the $200 filing fee violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, as delineated in Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
  3. The indefinite suspensions of driver’s licenses for the nonpayments of the $100 reinstatement fee without pre-deprivation hearings to determine an individual’s ability to pay and the willfulness of their nonpayment(s) violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, as delineated in Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
  4. The indefinite suspensions of driver’s licenses for nonpayments of traffic fines and fees without pre-deprivation ability-to-pay hearings violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
  5. The inadequate pre-deprivation notice of procedures to prevent or contest indefinite suspensions of driver’s licenses for nonpayments of traffic fines and fees violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

In addition to injunctive and declaratory relief, Plaintiffs seek to certify two classes: (1) the “Suspension Class,” which Plaintiffs propose includes all individuals whose driver’s licenses are suspended, or will be suspended, by the South Carolina DMV due to their nonpayments of fines, fees, surcharges, assessments, or court costs assessed for traffic offenses; and (2) the “Reinstatement Fee Class,” which Plaintiffs propose includes all individuals whose driver’s licenses are suspended, or will be suspended, by the South Carolina DMV due to their nonpayments of reinstatement fees.

You can find links to relevant legal documents here, as well as a video related to the case.

 

American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of South Carolina; American Civil Liberties Union Foundation; Southern Poverty Law Center; Terrell Marshall Law Group; South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center
October 30, 2019
Close