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Case Name Stinnie v. Holcomb PB-VA-0007
Docket / Court 3:16-cv-00044-NKM ( W.D. Va. )
State/Territory Virginia
Case Type(s) Public Benefits / Government Services
Special Collection DOJ Civil Rights Division Statements of Interest
Attorney Organization Legal Services/Legal Aid
Case Summary
On July 6, 2016, indigent Virginia residents who had suffered indefinite suspension of their driver's licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines that they could not afford, brought this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The plaintiffs sued ... read more >
On July 6, 2016, indigent Virginia residents who had suffered indefinite suspension of their driver's licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines that they could not afford, brought this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The plaintiffs sued the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Represented by private attorneys, the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, and class certification. They claimed that the Commonwealth's scheme of suspending licenses to coerce payment of money owed to the courts unfairly punishes poor people for being poor, and that suspending their licenses was a violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

On November 4, 2016, Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe granted the NAACP's motion for leave to file an amicus brief. On November 20, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest urging the Court to conclude that the plaintiffs had set forth a plausible claim for relief that the alleged driver's license suspension practices used by the defendant violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The DOJ argued that suspension of a person's driver's license in response to the failure to pay court debt without providing a person with adequate notice and meaningful opportunity to be heard prior to the suspension constitutes a deprivation of a protected interest without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Moreover, the DOJ argued that suspending the driver's licenses of those who fail to pay fines without inquiring into whether the failure to pay was willful or instead the result of an inability to pay may result in penalizing indigent individuals solely because of their poverty, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

On March 13, 2017, Senior U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon dismissed the case without prejudice, holding that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. He found that "Congress and the Constitution have not granted federal district courts the authority to hear appeals from state courts." Furthermore, a federal court could only hear a case if it could grant some sort of remedy to the plaintiffs. In this case, state courts rather than the Commissioner had suspended the licenses, a court order against the Commissioner would not provide such a remedy and so the court held it had no standing. Finally, Judge Moon found that the court was barred from hearing the case by the Eleventh Amendment bar on federal lawsuits filed by citizens against a state. 2017 WL 963234.

The plaintiffs appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. On May 23, 2018, the Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and remanded the case back to the district court with instructions to allow the plaintiffs to amend their complaint. Circuit Judge Henry F. Floyd wrote the majority opinion, in which Circuit Judge Allyson K. Duncan joined. The court found that it lacked jurisdiction to consider plaintiffs' appeal because the district court's dismissal without prejudice was not a final order and because the plaintiffs might still be able to cure the deficiencies identified by the district court by amending their complaint. Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote a dissenting opinion because he would have found that the district court's dismissal was an appealable final order. According to Judge Gregory, the district court's grounds for dismissal rested on the "text and structure" of the Virginia statute, rather than on the "sufficiency of the plaintiffs' factual pleadings;" thus, since no factual allegation could "alter the text and structure of the state statute, no amendment to the complaint can cure the perceived jurisdictional defects."

After the case was returned to the district court, on June 22, 2018, Judge Moon granted leave to the plaintiffs to amend or clarify their complaint. On September 11, 2018, the plaintiffs filed an amended class action complaint and a motion for preliminary injunction asking the court to enjoin the Commissioner from enforcing the statutes against the plaintiffs and future suspended class members without notice and determination of ability to pay, to remove any current suspensions of the plaintiffs' driver's licenses imposed under the statute, and to enjoin the Commissioner from charging a fee to reinstate the plaintiffs' licenses if there are no other restrictions on their licenses. On December 21, 2018, Judge Moon granted the plaintiffs' motion for the preliminary injunction, finding it likely that the plaintiffs would succeed on establishing that the Virginia statute violates procedural due process and that the remaining factors relevant to the issuance of a preliminary injunction weighed in favor of plaintiffs. 355 F.Supp.3d 514.

As of March 20, 2019, the case is still pending.

Saeeda Joseph-Charles - 11/20/2016
Virginia Weeks - 03/15/2018
Lisa Limb - 03/20/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Drivers Licenses
Poverty/homelessness
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Richard D. Holcomb
Plaintiff Description Individuals who allege that the DMV indefinitely suspended their driver’s licenses as a result of inability to pay fines and court costs.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Legal Services/Legal Aid
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Pending
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filing Year 2016
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Docket(s)
3:16-cv-00044-NKM (W.D. Va.)
PB-VA-0007-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/19/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PB-VA-0007-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/06/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Statement of Interest of the United States [ECF# 27]
PB-VA-0007-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/07/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 56] (2017 WL 963234) (W.D. Va.)
PB-VA-0007-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/13/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Unpublished Memorandum Opinion from 4th Circuit [Ct. of App. ECF# 78] (734 Fed.Appx. 858)
PB-VA-0007-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/23/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Class Action Complaint [ECF# 84]
PB-VA-0007-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/11/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 126] (355 F.Supp.3d 514) (W.D. Va.)
PB-VA-0007-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/21/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 127] (W.D. Va.)
PB-VA-0007-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/21/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Duncan, Allyson Kay (Fourth Circuit) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0004
Floyd, Henry Franklin (D.S.C., Fourth Circuit) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0004
Gregory, Roger L. (Fourth Circuit) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0004
Hoppe, Joel C. Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-9000
Moon, Norman K. (W.D. Va.) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0003 | PB-VA-0007-0006 | PB-VA-0007-0007 | PB-VA-0007-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Abel, Benjamin Peter (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-9000
Bauer, Mary C. (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0001 | PB-VA-0007-9000
Baugh, David Preston (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0001 | PB-VA-0007-0005 | PB-VA-0007-9000
Blank, Jonathan Todd (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0001 | PB-VA-0007-0005 | PB-VA-0007-9000
Ciolfi, Angela A. (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0001 | PB-VA-0007-0005 | PB-VA-0007-9000
Gunn, Travis Cory (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-9000
Kendrick, Leslie Carolyn (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0001 | PB-VA-0007-0005 | PB-VA-0007-9000
Lange, Laura Ann (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-9000
Levy-Lavelle, Patrick (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0001 | PB-VA-0007-0005 | PB-VA-0007-9000
Salas, Mario David (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0001 | PB-VA-0007-9000
Weedon, Brooke Alexandra (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Baugh, Janet W. (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-9000
Cox, Trevor Stephen (Virginia) show/hide docs
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Davidson, Nancy Hull (Virginia) show/hide docs
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Eckstein, Maya Miriam (Virginia) show/hide docs
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Gilman, Neil Keith (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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O'Shea, Margaret Hoehl (Virginia) show/hide docs
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Parker, David Mitchell (Virginia) show/hide docs
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Parrish, Christian Arrowsmith (Virginia) show/hide docs
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Raphael, Stuart Alan (Virginia) show/hide docs
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Yost, Adam John (Virginia) show/hide docs
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Other Lawyers Bains, Chiraag (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0002
Bullock, Robert B. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0002
Fishwick, John Palmer (Virginia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0002
Foster, Lisa A. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Giorno, Anthony P. (Virginia) show/hide docs
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Heilberg, David L. (Virginia) show/hide docs
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Johnston, Maureen (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Killebrew, Paul (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Lash, Karen (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Moossy, Robert J. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Rosenbaum, Steven H. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Volek, Jude (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Wayne, Seth (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-VA-0007-0002

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