University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name Fowler v. Johnson PB-MI-0013
Docket / Court 4:17-cv-11441 ( E.D. Mich. )
State/Territory Michigan
Case Type(s) Public Benefits / Government Services
Special Collection Fines/Fees/Bail Reform (Criminalization of poverty)
Attorney Organization Equal Justice Under Law
Case Summary
On May 4, 2017, two residents of Detroit, Michigan filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The plaintiffs sued the Secretary of State for the State of Michigan under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The plaintiffs, ... read more >
On May 4, 2017, two residents of Detroit, Michigan filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The plaintiffs sued the Secretary of State for the State of Michigan under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The plaintiffs, represented by the Sugar Law Center and Equal Justice Under Law, sought declaratory and injunctive relief as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. This case was assigned to District Judge Linda V. Parker. The plaintiffs claimed that, in automatically and indefinitely suspending the driver’s licenses of people who owe court-ordered fines, costs, fees, and assessments, even if they simply cannot afford pay, the defendants had violated their equal protection and substantive and procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

On the same day as filing the complaint, the plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction, seeking to enjoin the defendant from suspending the driver’s licenses of people who are unable to pay their court debts.

On July 17, 2017, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss, or, alternatively, a motion for summary judgment. The defendant asked the court to dismiss all claims, arguing that the claims lacked subject matter jurisdiction and lacked merit as a matter of law.

On December 14, 2017, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction. Judge Parker reasoned that, while the plaintiffs were unlikely to establish equal protection or substantive due process violations, the court found a strong likelihood that the plaintiffs would succeed in establishing a procedural due process violation. 2017 WL 6379676. The defendant appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The defendant also filed an emergency motion to stay court proceedings pending the appeal, arguing that the preliminary injunction is substantively improper where the defendant, not the plaintiffs, will suffer irreparable harm, and that the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits. On December 21, 2017, disagreeing, Judge Parker denied the motion to stay noting the defendants failed to establish irreparable harm. 2017 WL 6540926.

In response to this denial, the Sixth Circuit entered an order on December 28, 2017 granting a thirty day stay of the preliminary injunction. The Sixth Circuit concluded that the injunction was too broad in scope and provided too little direction as to what specific actions should have been taken to comply with the constitutional due process requirements. As such, the appeals court remanded to the district court for the limited purpose of modifying the injunctive relief granted, after any necessary briefings or evidentiary hearings, to provide direction to the defendant as to the type of process required by the district court’s order.

In light of the Sixth Circuit order to stay the injunction, Judge Parker gave an order amending the preliminary injunction and scheduling a hearing so that the parties may raise any questions or concerns they have regarding the district court’s intended modification of the injunctive relief. After the hearing, reasoning that the Sixth Circuit’s December 2017 remand order did not invite it to revisit the merits of the plaintiff’s claims, Judge Parker gave specific instruction as to what was required by the preliminary injunction on January 24, 2018.

The district court enjoined the defendant from suspending any further driver’s licenses of individuals because of nonpayment and required the defendant to (1) offer drivers the option to request a hearing where they have the opportunity to demonstrate their inability to pay a fine, cost, fee and/or assessment; (2) provide a hearing when requested; (3) provides reasonable notice to drivers of the hearing opportunity; and (4) institutes alternatives to full payment for those unable to pay (e.g., realistic payment plans or volunteer service). In response to this decision, the defendants filed another appeal.

On February 7, 2018, the Sixth Circuit entered an order granting a stay of the amended preliminary injunction and, finding that the district court’s jurisdiction over this case was unclear, remanded to the district court to address the plaintiffs’ standing. The judges were Senior Judge Ralph B. Guy, Jr. and Senior Judge Ronald Lee Gilman.

On April 11, 2018, the district court issued an opinion and order to address the plaintiffs’ standing and ruled on the and ruled on the plaintiffs’ motion seeking leave to filed an amended complaint and a motion for class certification. 2018 WL 1737122. Ultimately, the district court found that the plaintiffs had standing. With regard to the plaintiff’s motion, however, Judge Parker found that the motion to certify class was premature. While the district court found that at least one of the plaintiffs had standing to pursue this lawsuit on behalf of the putative class, that finding undoubtedly will be included as an issue for review by the Sixth Circuit in the pending appeal. As such, the court found it would make little sense for to decide whether that plaintiff was typical of the putative class and whether she was an adequate class representative. Additionally, the district court found that it would be futile for the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint to add plaintiffs because the parties the plaintiffs seek to add as plaintiffs lacked standing.

As of June 2018, the case is ongoing.

Jake Parker - 06/08/2018


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Implement complaint/dispute resolution process
Preliminary relief granted
Required disclosure
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Drivers Licenses
Fines/Fees/Bail/Bond
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.
Defendant(s) The State of Michigan
Plaintiff Description All Michigan residents whose driver’s licenses are currently suspended or will be suspended solely because of inability to pay court debts, including, but not limited to, traffic fines, court costs, assessments and fees.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Equal Justice Under Law
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 2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Docket(s)
4:17-cv-11441 (E.D. Mich.)
PB-MI-0013-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/18/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 1]
PB-MI-0013-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/04/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order Granting Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 21] (2017 WL 6379676) (E.D. Mich.)
PB-MI-0013-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 12/14/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order Denying Defendant's Emergency Motion for Stay Pending Appeal [ECF# 29] (2017 WL 6540926) (E.D. Mich.)
PB-MI-0013-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 12/21/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Ct. of App. ECF# 8]
PB-MI-0013-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/28/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 35] (E.D. Mich.)
PB-MI-0013-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/24/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Ct. of App. ECF# 16]
PB-MI-0013-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/07/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order [ECF# 54] (2018 WL 1737122) (E.D. Mich.)
PB-MI-0013-0007.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 04/11/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Majzoub, Mona K. (E.D. Mich.) [Magistrate]
PB-MI-0013-9000
Parker, Linda Vivienne (E.D. Mich.)
PB-MI-0013-0002 | PB-MI-0013-0003 | PB-MI-0013-0005 | PB-MI-0013-0007 | PB-MI-0013-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Paris, Anthony D. (Michigan)
PB-MI-0013-9000
Philo, John C. (Michigan)
PB-MI-0013-0001 | PB-MI-0013-9000
Ramaswamy, Rebecca R. (District of Columbia)
PB-MI-0013-0001 | PB-MI-0013-9000
Sevcenko, Catherine B. (District of Columbia)
PB-MI-0013-0001 | PB-MI-0013-9000
Telfeyan, Phil (District of Columbia)
PB-MI-0013-0001 | PB-MI-0013-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Fedynsky, John G. (Michigan)
PB-MI-0013-9000

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -