University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Robinson v. Purkey CJ-TN-0010
Docket / Court 3:17-cv-1263 ( M.D. Tenn. )
State/Territory Tennessee
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Public Benefits / Government Services
Special Collection Criminalization of poverty
Attorney Organization Civil Rights Corps
Case Summary
On September 13, 2017 plaintiffs including a disabled middle aged male, a single mother of five children, and middle aged male who lives with his ailing father filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. Middle District Court of Tennessee, and were assigned to Judge Aleta A. Trauger. The plaintiffs ... read more >
On September 13, 2017 plaintiffs including a disabled middle aged male, a single mother of five children, and middle aged male who lives with his ailing father filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. Middle District Court of Tennessee, and were assigned to Judge Aleta A. Trauger. The plaintiffs are suing the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security and various county and city clerks under 42 U.S.C § 1983 for violations of the Due Process and the Equal Protection Clauses under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The plaintiffs are represented by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the Civil Rights Corps, Just City, and additional private counsel. The parties sought class action status for a statewide class of those whose driver’s licenses were suspended under Tennessee state law because they did not pay their traffic fines since they could not afford to pay them. They also sought subclass status for members within Wilson and Rutherford Counties and those who have had their licenses revoked statewide under the Tennessee state laws. Moreover, plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction preventing defendants from revoking or suspending licenses without due process in the future, and preliminary relief though the court reinstating licenses that have been suspended or revoked under current policy with all reinstatement fees waived, and cost of litigation paid for.

Plaintiffs claim that defendants did not allow them to set up payment plans to pay off traffic fines, making it impossible for low income plaintiffs to pay their debts. This resulted in county and city clerks imposing additional fees and penalties that plaintiffs were further unable to pay. Plaintiffs allege that they were willing to pay, but were unable to pay due to their financial status and no fault of their own. Upon default of payment of fines, clerks forwarded plaintiff information to the Commissioner of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security who would suspend or revoke plaintiff’s licenses. Plaintiffs also allege that when their licenses were suspended or revoked they often received no notice, nor was consideration given to their ability to pay. Plaintiffs who were never notified of their license suspension also faced additional penalties for unknowingly driving without a license. One plaintiff served jail time and plaintiffs allege that others across the state have also been imprisoned under similar circumstances. In addition, suspension and revocation of driver’s licenses limits plaintiffs’ ability to maintain employment, care for their children, or receive critical medical care since they are unable to drive to their destinations. This has made it more difficult for plaintiffs to pay their fees, reinstate their licenses, and pay for other basic living expenses such as rent creating a vicious cycle.

On October 5, 2017, the court issued an opinion granting a temporary restraining order restoring the driver’s licenses for two of the plaintiffs. The Court concluded that the two plaintiff’s claims were both likely to succeed, and recognized that a driver’s license is “crucial” to “economic self-sufficiency” necessary for plaintiffs to pay back their traffic debt. In addition, the facts that plaintiffs needed driver’s licenses to get vital medical care and support themselves economically factored into the judge’s decision. 2017 WL 4418134. The order was extended on October 17, 2017 pending a hearing to resolve whether to convert the order into a preliminary injunction.

The defendants moved to dismiss the claim on November 15, 2017.

On December 15, 2017, plaintiffs submitted an amended complaint adding a single mother of two who allegedly lost her job after losing her license due to the policies of the Bristol City Court Clerk, who was also added as a defendant on the date of the amended complaint.

The suit is still ongoing.

Will McCartney - 01/24/2018

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Implement complaint/dispute resolution process
Preliminary relief granted
Drivers Licenses
Pattern or Practice
Records Disclosure
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
State law
Defendant(s) Rutherford County
State of Tennessee
Wilson County
Plaintiff Description Plaintiffs are seeking class certification for individuals who have had their licenses suspended or revoked.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Civil Rights Corps
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Pending
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Source of Relief Litigation
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing CJ-TN-0008 : Thomas v. Haslam (M.D. Tenn.)
3:17-cv-1263 (M.D. Tenn.)
CJ-TN-0010-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/24/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint – Class Action [ECF# 1]
CJ-TN-0010-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/13/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum [ECF# 62] (2017 WL 4418134) (M.D. Tenn.)
CJ-TN-0010-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 10/05/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum [ECF# 111] (M.D. Tenn.)
CJ-TN-0010-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/19/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Trauger, Aleta Arthur (M.D. Tenn.)
CJ-TN-0010-0002 | CJ-TN-0010-0003 | CJ-TN-0010-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Cole, Jonathan Cole (Tennessee)
Dharia, Premal T. (District of Columbia)
CJ-TN-0010-0001 | CJ-TN-0010-9000
Krugman, Edward P. (District of Columbia)
Lau, Theresa (New York)
Spickler, Josh (Tennessee)
CJ-TN-0010-0001 | CJ-TN-0010-9000
Wang, Jonas (District of Columbia)
CJ-TN-0010-0001 | CJ-TN-0010-9000
White, Matthew G. (Tennessee)
CJ-TN-0010-0001 | CJ-TN-0010-9000
Wilner, Claudia (New York)
CJ-TN-0010-0001 | CJ-TN-0010-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Berexa, Kristin Ellis (Tennessee)
Campbell, Andrew B. (Tennessee)
Cope, Edward Evan (Tennessee)
Dix, Katherine (Tennessee)
Jennings, Michael Ray (Tennessee)
Marchetti, Louis Gino Jr. (Tennessee)
McCreary, Josh A. (Tennessee)
McGrady, Mark Ennis (Tennessee)
Meyer, Michael Alan (Tennessee)
Michels, Charles S. (Tennessee)
Rieger, Alexander Stuart (Tennessee)
Sutherland, Scott C. (Tennessee)
Wright, Phillip Andrew (Tennessee)

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