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Case Name DiFrancesco v. Bullock PB-MT-0003
Docket / Court 2:17-cv-00066-SEH ( D. Mont. )
State/Territory Montana
Case Type(s) Public Benefits / Government Services
Special Collection Post-WalMart decisions on class certification
Attorney Organization Equal Justice Under Law
Case Summary
On August 31, 2017, a resident of Bozeman, Montana, who was unable to pay his court debt that grew to nearly $4,000 out of a small $185 civil infraction, filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana. The plaintiff sued the governor of Montana, the Attorney ... read more >
On August 31, 2017, a resident of Bozeman, Montana, who was unable to pay his court debt that grew to nearly $4,000 out of a small $185 civil infraction, filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana. The plaintiff sued the governor of Montana, the Attorney General of Montana, the administrator of the Motor Vehicle Division of Montana, and the Bureau Chief of the Driver Services Bureau of Montana all under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff, represented by Equal Justice Under Law, sought declaratory and injunctive relief as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. The plaintiff claimed that, by indefinitely suspending the driver's licenses of people who failed to pay court-ordered fines, costs, and restitution, even where nonpayment was solely due to indigence and thus not willful, the defendants had violated the equal protection, substantive due process, and procedural due process rights. The case was assigned to Judge Sam E. Haddon.

On October 17, 2017, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, arguing that the plaintiff had filed after the applicable statute of limitations had expired. Judge Haddon denied this motion without prejudice to allow renewal following the determination of class certification.

On March 2, 2018, the plaintiff moved to certify class, defining the class as “All Montana drivers who currently have, or will have, at least one driver’s license suspension because of unpaid court debts and who did not, or will not, receive an ability-to-pay hearing before the suspension.”

Later in March, the parties filed a stipulation of dismissal, requesting that the court dismiss the governor of Montana as a defendant. The parties proffered this voluntary dismissal after agreeing that the governor was not a proper defendant in this action because he does not administer the statutes challenged in the suit.

In April 2018, the court entered an order specifying due dates for discovery and supplemental briefs regarding the motion to certify class. An initial hearing on certifying the class was held on October 16, 2018. Judge Haddon did not approve the class in an October 17 order, but granted the plaintiff leave to amend his class certification complaint. The plaintiff filed an amended complaint on November 2, 2018, which included classes for all current and future "individuals whose Montana driver’s licenses are... suspended for nonpayment of a fine, cost, or restitution under Mont. Code Ann. § 61-5-214(1)(b) and who were unable to afford to pay the fine, cost, or restitution at the time of suspension." The current suspended license holders and future suspended license holders were separate classes. This new complaint also removed Governor Bullock as a defendant, matching the previous stipulation.

A hearing on the amended class was held on January 8, 2019. Judge Haddon again denied these classes the following day (2019 WL 145627), stating that creating a class in this situation was not useful, because if injunctive relief is granted to the plaintiffs individually, the entire class will get the benefit, certified or not.

Litigation on the underlying claims continued, with the defendants filing a motion for summary judgment on April 12, 2019. However, on May 15 of that year, the parties filed a motion to say due to the passage into law of HB217, which eliminated nonpayment of fees as a reason to strip a Montana driver of their license. A month later, the parties filed a stipulation for dismissal that the court granted on June 17. The case is closed.

Jake Parker - 06/11/2018
Ellen Aldin - 06/01/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Right to travel
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Drivers Licenses
Fines/Fees/Bail/Bond
Poverty/homelessness
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) The State of Montana
Plaintiff Description All Montana drivers who currently have, or will have, at least one driver’s license suspension because of unpaid court debts and who did not, or will not, receive an ability-to-pay hearing before the suspension.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Equal Justice Under Law
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Form of Settlement Voluntary Dismissal
Filed 08/31/2017
Case Closing Year 2019
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Challenging Unconstitutional Driver’s License Suspensions
https://www.law.upenn.edu
Date: March 2018
By: Harmann Singh (University of Pennsylvania Law School Law Student)
Citation: https://www.law.upenn.edu/live/news/7910-challenging-unconstitutional-drivers-license
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
2:17-cv-66 (D. Mont.)
PB-MT-0003-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/17/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PB-MT-0003-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/31/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Complaint [ECF# 42]
PB-MT-0003-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/02/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 57] (2019 WL 145627) (D. Mont.)
PB-MT-0003-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 01/09/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Haddon, Sam E. (D. Mont.) show/hide docs
PB-MT-0003-0003 | PB-MT-0003-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Farris−Olsen, Robert (Montana) show/hide docs
PB-MT-0003-0001 | PB-MT-0003-0002 | PB-MT-0003-9000
Peterson, Scott L. (Montana) show/hide docs
PB-MT-0003-0001 | PB-MT-0003-0002 | PB-MT-0003-9000
Ramaswamy, Rebecca R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-MT-0003-0001 | PB-MT-0003-0002 | PB-MT-0003-9000
Sevcenko, Catherine B. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-MT-0003-0001
Telfeyan, Phil (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PB-MT-0003-0001 | PB-MT-0003-0002 | PB-MT-0003-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Cameron, Robert Thomas (Montana) show/hide docs
PB-MT-0003-9000
Tokerud, Hannah E (Montana) show/hide docs
PB-MT-0003-9000

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