United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
CINDY MENDOZA; GLORIA BERMUDEZ; JEREMY CHASE; CEKAIS TONI GANUELAS; REBECCA HEATH; and KARL WADE ROBERTS, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
MATTHEW GARRETT, in his official capacity as Director of the Oregon Department of Transportation; TAMMY BANEY, in her official capacity as Chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission; SEAN O'HOLLAREN, in his official capacity as Member of the Oregon Transportation Commission; BOB VAN BROCKLIN, in his official capacity as Member of the Oregon Transportation Commission; MARTIN CALLERY, in his official capacity as Member of the Oregon Transportation Commission; and TOM MCCLELLAN, in his official capacity as Administrator of Driver and Motor Vehicles Division, Oregon Department of Transportation, Defendants.
Teplin Fox Marisa Samuelson Beth Englander Kelsey Heilman
OREGON LAW CENTER Jonathan M. Dennis OREGON LAW CENTER
Attorneys for Plaintiffs
Rosenblum ATTORNEY GENERAL Renee Stineman ATTORNEY-IN-CHARGE
Beth Andrews ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL Sadie Furzley
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL Department of Justice Attorneys
OPINION & ORDER
A. Hernandez United States District Judge.
bring this action on behalf of themselves and a putative
class, challenging Oregon's practice of suspending an
individual's driver's license for failure to pay
"traffic debt." More specifically, the six named
Plaintiffs, each of whom lives on an extremely limited income
and has had a driver's license suspended because of the
inability to pay one or more traffic violation fines, contend
that suspending a driver's license for failure to pay
traffic debt absent an assessment of an individual's
ability to pay violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the
United States Constitution. Defendants are the Director of
the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), members of
the Oregon Transportation Commission, and the Administrator
of ODOT's Driver and Motor Vehicles Division.
Collectively, they are "the DMV." Simultaneously
with filing the Complaint, Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary
injunction and to certify the class. This Opinion addresses
the preliminary injunction motion only. At oral argument on
that motion, I deferred any further briefing on the class
certification motion, and any other activity in the case,
until resolution of the preliminary injunction motion.
bring three claims, each alleging a violation of either due
process, equal protection, or both. Because Plaintiffs fail
to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits as to
any of their claims, I deny the motion.
like other states, has a statutory scheme in which the
failure to pay a court-adjudicated traffic violation fine can
result in the suspension of a driver's license. Recently,
some states have addressed the practice through legislation.
In California, for example, according to a Los Angeles
Times article cited by Plaintiffs, the California
Legislature passed a bill, signed by the Governor in June
2017, preventing the suspension of driver's licenses
because of unpaid fines. Other states are in litigation over the
practice. E.g., Fowler v. Johnson, No.
17-11441, 2017 WL 6379676 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 14, 2017)
(challenge to Michigan statutes allowing suspension of
driver's licenses of individuals who fail to pay
court-ordered fines, costs, fees, and assessments resulting
from traffic violations) ("Fowler
I"); Robinson v. Purkey, No.
3:17-cv-1263, 2017 WL 4418134 (M.D. Tenn. Oct. 5, 2017)
(challenge to Tennessee statutes allowing suspension of
driver's licenses for nonpayment of fines or costs
imposed for conviction of driving offenses)
("Robinson I"). This case, however, involves
Oregon's statutory scheme. Thus, I begin there before
turning to other evidence in the record submitted in support
of, and in opposition to, the motion.
Oregon's Statutory Scheme
Oregon Vehicle Code defines "traffic violation" as
"a traffic offense that is designated as a traffic
violation in the statute defining the offense, or any other
offense defined in the Oregon Vehicle Code that is punishable
by a fine but that is not punishable by a term of
imprisonment." Or. Rev. Stat. § (O.R.S). 801.557;
see also O.R.S. 153.008(1)(a), (b) (providing
generally that an "offense" is a
"violation" if it is "designated as a
violation by the statute defining the offense," or the
"statute prescribing the penalty for the offense
provides that the offense is punishable by a fine but does
not provide that the offense is punishable by a term of
are classified into categories. O.R.S. 153.012 (designating
categories as Class A, Class B, Class C, and Class D, as well
as "unclassified violations as described in O.R.S.
153.015," and "[s]pecific fine violations as
described in O.R.S. 153.015."). "The penalty for
committing a violation is a fine." O.R.S. 153.018(1).
There are maximum, presumptive, and minimum fines for each
category of violation. O.R.S. 153.018(2) (maximum fines);
O.R.S. 153.019 (presumptive fines); O.R.S. 153.020
(increasing presumptive fines for violations committed in a
highway work zone, school zone, or safety corridor); O.R.S.
153.021 (minimum fines). The Chief Justice of the Oregon
Supreme Court is required to establish a uniform fine
schedule for violations prosecuted in circuit courts. O.R.S.
153.800(4)(b). Courts other than circuit courts are required
to establish schedules of the amounts of penalties to be
imposed for first, second, and subsequent violations,
designating each violation specifically or by class. O.R.S.
law enforcement officers issue a citation and summons to a
driver for a traffic violation, certain information must be
included as specified in O.R.S. 153.045-153.051. This
includes the amount of the presumptive fine, if there is one
for the violation. O.R.S. 153.051(4) (requirements of the
summons). The summons must notify the person that a monetary
judgment may be entered for up to the maximum amount of
fines, restitution, and other costs allowed by law if the
person fails to make all required appearances at proceedings.
O.R.S. 153.051(5). And, the summons must notify the person
that if he or she pleads no contest and pays the presumptive
fine, the person may submit an explanation of the
circumstances of the violation and the court may consider
that explanation in establishing the amount of the fine, but
the court cannot impose a fine less than the statutory
minimum. O.R.S. 153.051(7). The summons must also notify the
person that if the person pleads not guilty and requests a
trial, the fines still cannot be less than the minimum unless
the person is found not guilty. O.R.S. 153.051(8).
person who has been issued a citation must make an appearance
in person at the time indicated in the citation/summons,
request a trial, or deliver payment of the presumptive fine
to the court. O.R.S. 153.061(1), (3). Circuit courts,
municipal courts, and justice courts adjudicate traffic
violations. In cases where the defendant pleads no contest by
delivering payment of the presumptive fine to the court under
O.R.S. 153.061(3), the amount of the fine may not exceed the
presumptive fine. Id. Additionally, a judge may
suspend operation of any part of a judgment entered under the
"Violations and Fines" chapter of the Oregon
statutes upon condition that the defendant pay the
nonsuspended portion of a fine within a specified period of
time. O.R.S. 153.090(4).
traffic violation fine remains unpaid, a court may use a
private collection agency to seek recoupment of the debt or
refer the debt to the Oregon Department of Revenue (ODOR).
O.R.S. 1.197(1). In addition to these options, "[a]
court may . . . (a) issue a notice of suspension to the [DMV]
that directs the department to implement procedures under ORS
809.416[, ] or (b) [o]rder a defendant's driving
privileges restricted." O.R.S. 809.210(1). This case
concerns only (a), the issuance of the notice of suspension.
Although an unpaid traffic violation fine allows a court to
send a suspension notice to the DMV, a court is prohibited
from sending a notice of suspension for those who have failed
to pay fines for bicycle, pedestrian, or parking offenses.
receipt of the notice of suspension from a court, suspension
of a driver's license by the DMV is mandatory. A person
"is subject to suspension under ORS 809.415(4) if the
department receives a notice of suspension from a court under
ORS 809.210 indicating that the person has failed or refused
to pay a fine[.]" O.R.S. 809.416(2). The
"department shall suspend driving privileges
when provided under ORS 809.416." O.R.S. 809.415(4)
(emphasis added); see also O.R.S. 809.210(4)(b)
(providing that if the court issues a notice of suspension
that directs the DMV to implement procedures under O.R.S.
809.416, the DMV shall take action on the suspension as
provided under O.R.S. 809.416).
person is subject to suspension under O.R.S. 809.416(2) until
one of the following occurs: (1) the person presents the
department with a notice of reinstatement issued by the court
showing that the person (a) is making payments or has paid
the fine; or (b) has enrolled in a preapprenticeship program
as defined or is a registered apprentice as defined; or (2)
twenty years has elapsed from the date of the traffic
offense. O.R.S. 809.416(2); see also O.R.S.
809.415(4)(a) (the mandatory suspension shall continue until
the earlier of (1) the person establishes that she or he has
performed all acts necessary under O.R.S. 809.416 to make the
person not subject to suspension; or (2) twenty years from
the date the traffic offense occurred if the suspension is
imposed for a reason described in O.R.S. 809.416(2) (failure
or refusal to pay a fine)). Echoing the exception in O.R.S.
809.210(7), O.R.S. 809.416(3) exempts from suspension persons
who fail or refuse to pay a fine relating to any pedestrian,
bicycle, or parking offense.
mandatory unless excepted under O.R.S. 809.416(2)(a) or (b),
the suspension does not take effect immediately. Instead, the
department, upon receipt of a notice of suspension from a
court, must send a letter by first class mail advising the
person that suspension will begin sixty days from the date of
the letter unless the department is presented with a notice
of reinstatement by the court under O.R.S. 809.416(2)(a).
O.R.S. 809.416(3); see also O.R.S. 809.210(4)(a)
(providing that if the court issues a notice of suspension
that directs the DMV to implement suspension procedures under
O.R.S. 809.416, and if at any time within the period of
suspension, a person pays the fine or has begun making
payments according to the payment schedule established with
the court, the court shall immediately send to the department
a notice of reinstatement; further stating that the notice of
suspension may be reissued if the person ceases making
payments before the fine is paid in full).
person whose license has been suspended under O.R.S.
809.415(4)(a) is entitled to administrative review under
O.R.S. 809.440. O.R.S. 809.415(4)(b). This review is an
"informal administrative process to assure prompt and
careful review by the department of the documents upon which
an action is based." O.R.S. 809.440(2)(a). A person may
defend against the department's action by showing (1)
that the conviction did not involve a motor vehicle and the
department's action is permitted only if the offense
involves a motor vehicle; (2) an out-of-state conviction on
which the department's action is based was for an offense
that is not comparable to an offense under Oregon law; or (3)
the records relied on by the department identify the wrong
person. O.R.S. 809.440(2)(b). Judicial review of a department
order affirming a suspension is allowed. O.R.S.
statutes do not appear to address the contents of the
sixty-day notice sent by the DMV. However, the preliminary
injunction record contains copies of such notices sent to
several of the Plaintiffs. First, a sixty-day notice was sent
to Plaintiff Gloria Bermudez on October 7, 2013 and makes
clear that her driving privileges will be suspended beginning
at 12:01 AM on December 6, 2013. Bermudez Decl., Ex. 2, ECF
4-2. The information in the notice is comprehensive and
includes information indicating that the suspension can be
prevented by contacting the applicable court. It states, at
various places in the notice:
To prevent this suspension you must make certain the action
required below is completed and received by DMV no later than
5:00 pm on the last business day prior to December 06, 2013.
* * *
You can stop this suspension by contacting the court named
below and completing all the requirements necessary to clear
this matter. If we receive a clearance notice from the court
before the date the suspension begins, this suspension will
not go into effect.
Id. The notice urges the recipient to contact the
court as soon as possible. Id. It states that no
hardship permit is available. Id. It also informs
the recipient of the right to administrative review, how to
obtain that review, and what the department will review.
Id. ("In this review we will look at our
records and the documents concerning this matter to determine
if we took appropriate action" and further stating that
the DMV will review the person's evidence to determine if
"you are the same person" named on the notice from
the court, if the DMV received notice from the court that you
failed to pay a fine, and if the DMV received a clearance
notice from the court).
notice dated October 27, 2016 was sent to Plaintiff Cekais
Toni Ganuelas. Ganuelas Decl., Ex. 1, ECF 6-1. It indicates
the date and reason for the suspension. Id. It also
states that the suspension will last until the DMV receives a
"court clearance (notice of reinstatement) or 20 years
have elapsed from the date the traffic offense(s)
occurred." Id. A separate section provides:
CAN I STOP THIS SUSPENSION?
To stop the suspension, DMV must receive a court clearance.
Contact the court to determine how to obtain a court
clearance for the docket(s) shown. You will find court
contact information on DMV's website.
Id. The notice provides additional information on
the right to obtain an administrative review, how to obtain
that review, and what the DMV will consider. Id.
Notices identical to the one sent to Ganuelas were issued to
Plaintiff Cindy Mendoza on July 29, 2015, and to Plaintiff
Karl Wade Roberts on July 6, 2018. Mendoza Decl., Ex. 2, ECF
8-2; Roberts Decl., Ex. 1, ECF 9-1.
suspension has begun, a court may still issue a notice of
reinstatement and the suspension will be terminated.
E.g., Bermudez Decl., Ex. 2 ("You can stop this
suspension after it begins by meeting the court's
requirements and obtaining a court clearance notice.";
"If we receive the clearance notice on or after the date
the suspension begins, you will have to pay a reinstatement
fee to DMV[.]"); Ganuelas Decl., Ex. 1 ("If DMV
receives the court clearance after the suspension begins, you
will have to pay a DMV reinstatement fee."). II.
Plaintiffs' Suspensions & Personal Circumstances.
the six named Plaintiffs currently has a suspended license
for failure to pay traffic debt. Bermudez Decl. ¶ 6;
Ganuelas Decl. ¶ 3, ECF 6; Heath Decl. ¶¶ 5,
6, ECF 7; Mendoza Decl. ¶ 5, ECF 8; Roberts Decl. ¶
6, ECF 9; Chase Decl. ¶ 12, ECF 34. Some have had
multiple suspensions over many years. E.g., Bermudez
Decl. ¶¶ 8, 10 (license suspended in 2003 and again
in 2014); Heath Decl. ¶¶ 5, 6 (license suspended in
1995 and has received six notices of suspension since then);
Mendoza Decl. ¶¶ 5, 7, 13 (license suspended in
2010, again in 2016, and expects another as a result of
underlying violations which resulted in fines include (1)
failing to obey a traffic control device, failing to use
proper child seats, driving with expired tags, driving while
using a cell phone; Bermudez Decl. ¶¶ 8, 9, 10, 13;
(2) failing to display plates or illegal display of plates;
Ganuelas Decl. ¶ 3; Roberts Decl. ¶ 6; (3)
speeding; Ganuelas Decl. ¶ 4; Mendoza Decl. ¶ 7;
Chase Decl. ¶¶ 7, 8; and (4) failing to appear at
arraignment for misdemeanor traffic case involving a car
accident with property damage only; Mendoza Decl. ¶ 12.
Additionally, Plaintiffs have received citations, and thus
fines, for driving with a suspended license. E.g.,
Bermudez Decl. ¶¶ 10, 13; Ganuelas Decl. ¶ 5;
Mendoza Decl. ¶¶ 5, 6; Roberts Decl. ¶ 6.
Plaintiffs have attempted to work out payment plans. Bermudez
states that she was cited in 2003 for failing to obey a
traffic control device. Bermudez Decl. ¶ 8;
id., Ex. 1 (copy of citation). Because she failed to
appear at her arraignment and apparently did not pay the
presumptive fine, her license was suspended in May 2003.
Id. ¶ 8. The debt was sent to collections but
the court later set up a payment plan, allowing her license
to be reinstated in 2010. Id. However, she could not
keep up with the $50/month payments and her license was
suspended again in 2012. Id. In July 2012, Bermudez
was cited for several violations. Id. ¶ 13. She
worked out a payment plan with the court. Id. ¶
15; id., Ex. 3. She was to pay $75 per month, on the
24th of each month, until the total of $435 was paid.
Id. On August 24, 2012, the date her first payment
was due, she wrote a letter to the court explaining that she
could not make the payment because she just had a premature
baby. Id., Ex. 4. A handwritten note dated the same
day states "allow 30 days extra." Id.
However, she still could not make the payments. Id.
¶ 13. She states that her license was suspended in 2013
as a result. Id.
2012, Ganuelas has been cited at least three times for
driving with a suspended license. Ganuelas Decl. ¶ 5. On
one of those occasions, in 2015, she was offered a payment
plan for the $485 owed. Id. ¶ 20. She made $50
monthly payments for a time but was unable to pay a $160
balance at which point the court notified the DMV which
suspended her license. Id. Heath states that
"various courts have forced me into payment plans that I
couldn't afford." Heath Decl. ¶ 8. Most
required her to make a minimum $50 monthly payment.
Id. Most recently, the Pendleton Municipal Court
imposed that requirement on her. Id. She began
making $20 monthly payments instead, which subjected her to a
show cause hearing during which the court agreed to allow her
to continue making $20 monthly payments. Id.
does not remember being offered a payment plan for traffic
debt owed to the Beaverton or Milwaukie Municipal Courts.
Mendoza Decl. ¶¶ 9. She currently is on a payment
plan for traffic debt owed to Clackamas County Circuit Court,
but she has missed some of the $100 monthly payments and that
court has now sent the debt to collections. Id.
¶¶ 12, 13. She expects that the court will send a
suspension notice to the DMV which will suspend her license.
Id. Roberts states that at one point, he made
payments to the Baker County Justice Court but since then, he
has acquired more traffic tickets which he cannot pay off
with his limited income. Roberts Decl. ¶ 7. It is his
belief that the Baker County Justice Court will not ask the
DMV to lift his suspension unless he is able to make $50
monthly payments to that court. Id. ¶ 10.
was offered payment plans in Gilliam and Sherman County
Justice Courts when he explained he could not pay the fines
and fees for speeding citations. Chase Decl. ¶¶ 7,
8. However, each county told him the longest term possible
was twelve months which resulted in a monthly payment more
than he could afford. Id. Both of the debts were
eventually sent to collections. Id. ¶ 10. He
also received traffic violations in 2006 and 2008 in
Beaverton. Id. ¶ 11. Consistent with what he
was told by the Gilliam and Sherman County Justice Courts,
the Beaverton Municipal Court also told him that a payment
plan was available, but it could not extend beyond twelve
months. Id. This debt was also assigned to a private
debt collector. Id. Chase worked out payment plans
with the private collection agencies beginning in 2013 to pay
off the debts to the Gilliam and Sherman County Justice
Courts. Id. ¶¶ 15-17. Both of those debts
have been discharged. Id. He has attempted to
negotiate a payment plan with the Beaverton Municipal Court
but was told that because the debt had been referred to a
private collection agency, the debt was "out of
house" and he could not meet with a judge. Id.
¶¶ 18-19. The private collection agency has refused
to enter into a payment plan extending longer than twelve
months which would result in monthly payments greater than
$100, an amount Chase cannot afford. Id. ¶ 20.
Nonetheless, in January 2018, Chase began to pay the debt
collection agency $75 per month and then $50 per month
beginning in April 2018. Id. ¶ 22. At $50 per
month, it will take him more than two more years to pay the
debt in full at which point he can get his license
Plaintiffs state that the DMV never inquired about an ability
to pay the traffic debt before suspending a license. Bermudez
Decl. ¶ 16 (stating that before each suspension, no one
from the DMV or any court asked if she was able to pay the
debt); Mendoza Decl. ¶ 10 (same); Ganuelas Decl. ¶
24 (no one from the DMV asked about ability to pay before
suspending license); Heath Decl. ¶ 7 (same); Roberts
Decl. ¶ 11 (same); Chase Decl. ¶ 13 (same).
Plaintiffs further state that if given the chance to avoid
suspension by explaining an inability to pay, he or she would
have done so. Bermudez Decl. ¶ 16; Ganuelas Decl. ¶
24; Heath Decl. ¶ 7; Mendoza Decl. ¶ 10; Roberts
Decl. ¶ 11; Chase Decl ¶ 13.
measurable standard, each Plaintiff is impoverished. All live
on very limited incomes. Bermudez Decl. ¶¶ 3-5
(single parent of four children; works as a cook in a
shopping mall restaurant earning $14 per hour; receives $420
per month in food stamps); Ganuelas Decl. ¶¶ 2, 6,
7, 8 (single parent of one child; lost job in July 2018 where
she earned $400 per week; now earns $140 per month teaching
yoga; has received $117 per week in child support but father
of child stopped paying two months ago); Heath Decl. ¶ 3
(receives $750 per month in social security disability; four
times per year receives $400 in casino dividends from the
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation but
receipt of casino dividends results in a corresponding
reduction in social security payments; receives $189 per
month in food stamps; has not maintained regular employment
since 1997); Mendoza Decl. ¶¶ 2-4 (unemployed
single parent of three children; recently moved to subsidized
two-bedroom apartment but previously spent four months living
in a motel room and in a homeless shelter; receives
approximately $1, 100 monthly in assistance, including food
stamps); Roberts Decl. ¶¶ 3-4 (lives with wife and
each receive $562 per month in social security income; has
not had substantial paid work since March 2003 due to
disabilities); Chase Decl. ¶ 2 (receives $817 per month
in social security disability and approximately $190 per
month in food stamp with no other sources of income).
struggle to obtain basic life necessities such as housing and
food, and some have medical issues and are on disability.
Bermudez Decl. ¶ 5 (earnings not enough to support her
family resulting in struggles to pay monthly electric, gas,
and phone bills; often seeks free food at food pantries at
end of the month); Ganuelas Decl. ¶ 10 (recently moved
from apartment to renting a room from a friend because the
apartment rent was too high); Heath Decl. ¶ 3, 12 (on
disability; homeless for seven years until December 2017);
Mendoza Decl. ¶ 4 (assistance and food stamp amounts not
enough to support family requiring her to find free boxes at
food pantries every month); Roberts Decl. ¶¶ 3-5
(disabled for several years; social security income received
by Roberts and his wife not enough for the family with no
money left after paying bills and buying groceries); Chase
Decl. ¶¶ 2, 14 (disabled since 2009).
of residence in an urban or rural community, each Plaintiff
describes the difficulties of life without the ability to
drive a car. For example, Bermudez, who lives in Portland,
explains that she still drives because it cuts her work
commute from one hour on the bus to twenty-five minutes by
car, and given her children's needs, she cannot afford
the extra time on the bus. Bermudez Decl. ¶ 20. She
drives her children to school in five to ten minutes to spare
them an hour-long bus ride starting at 6:45 a.m. which would
cause sleep deprivation with negative health and learning
impacts. Id. ¶ 21. She buys groceries by car
because of the amount of food needed for a family of five.
Id. ¶ 22. Each day without a driver's
license makes it hard for her to shop for groceries, take her
children to school, get to medical appointments, and get to
work. Id. ¶ 24.
recently moved from Pendleton to Mission, about six miles
away, because Pendleton's rent was too high. Ganuelas
Decl. ¶¶ 2, 10. Before she moved, her job as a
bartender was one mile away and she walked, even though she
had to cross a busy four-lane highway and walking home from
her late-night shift made her feel unsafe. Id.
¶ 9. After moving, she had to pay a friend to take her
to work or use a taxi. Id. ¶ 10. In July 2018,
she lost her bartending job because she missed a shift.
Id. ¶ 7. She had gone away with friends who
decided to stay longer than planned. Id. This left
her with no way to return. Id. No one would lend her
a car given that her license was suspended. Id. She
was fired at the end of the pay period for failing to show up
for her shift. Id. Ganuelas can use a tribal shuttle
to get from Mission to Pendleton but it runs only six days
per week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and thus, was not an option
when she still was bartending. Id. ¶ 11. Not
having a license makes it difficult for her to provide for
herself and her daughter. Id. ¶ 12. To buy
groceries, clothes, and necessary household goods, she has to
find a ride and pay $10 each way. Id. Her daughter
has been unable to play on a youth soccer team because
Ganuelas lacks a reliable way to get her to practices and
games. Id. ¶ 13. Ganuelas has missed events at
her daughter's school because of her inability to drive.
Id. ¶ 14. It is difficult for her to visit
extended family in Washington, Alaska, and other parts of
Oregon without a car. Id. ¶ 15.
explains that when she last worked, in 1997, she walked five
and one-half miles each way because her license was
suspended. Heath Decl. ¶¶ 4, 5. She lives in
Pendleton, where, she states, the public transportation is
slow and limited. Id. ¶ 10. There are no
ride-hailing services such as Uber or Lyft. Id.
Taxis are expensive. Id. Because of her suspension,
she has had to pay expensive cab fares, walk long distances
in hot, cold, and wet weather, and take slow public transit
systems. Id. ¶ 11. She has missed funeral
services for family members and tribal events. Id.
Walking is difficult for her because she gets exhausted and
experiences soreness in her back, legs, and feet, but without
a driver's license, she has to walk long distances every
day. Id. ¶ 16.
lives in Portland and has had difficulty finding a job
without a valid driver's license. Mendoza Decl.
¶¶ 2, 4, 21. She still drives occasionally to get
her children to medical appointments, to buy clothes and
school supplies, and to access food pantries. Id.
¶¶ 17-19. She tries to take the bus or light rail
but for groceries, food pantries, and medical appointments,
she relies on her car. Id. ¶ 20. Uber and Lyft
are too expensive for her. Id.
lives in Baker City where there is very little public
transportation. Roberts Decl. ¶ 17. His wife also does
not have a driver's license and needs transportation to
frequent medical appointments required by a health condition.
Id. ¶ 16. He tries to avoid driving but still
does so on a limited basis because he does not see an
alternative in Baker City given his and his wife's health
issues. Id. ¶ 18. He has ridden his bicycle as
an alternative, even through the harsh Baker City winters, to
purchase groceries but as he has aged, it has become more
difficult and his doctor has now advised against it for
health reasons. Id. ¶ 15. It is "pretty
much impossible" to fish and hunt or to visit his adult
children in Idaho and Missouri without a car. Id.
¶¶ 13, 14.
Chase, who lives in Vancouver, Washington, states that he
uses public transportation to get around, but the inability
to drive is still a hardship. Chase Decl. ¶ 25. Using
public transportation in the Vancouver-Portland area
typically takes ninety minutes and two transfers with trains
and buses often delayed. Id. He has been stranded
multiple times. Id. Having a driver's license
would make it much easier to take care of basic life
necessities such as buying groceries and going to medical
appointments. Id. Without the ability to drive, he
does not feel like a full participant in society.
Id. ¶ 26.
do not dispute that Plaintiffs' traffic debt remains
unpaid only because they cannot afford to pay it, not because
of a willful refusal to pay. Defendants do not dispute
Plaintiffs' descriptions of their economic, social, or
employment circumstances or how the loss of their
driver's licenses for nonpayment of traffic debt has
contributed to their poverty and added challenges to their
lives. Defendants do not dispute that the ability to drive a
car plays a central role in one's life, whether living in
a large metropolitan area, a small city, or a rural area.
Thus, I rely on these facts, which are supported by
Declarations and undisputed by Defendants, in this Opinion.
Judicial Officers' Adjudication of Traffic Violations
& Fine Impositions
judges of municipal or justice courts submitted Declarations
explaining Oregon's statutory scheme for traffic debt and
how each carries forth his or her duties in that regard.
Judge Jad Lemhouse, a Justice of the Peace for the Linn
County Justice of the Peace District 4A, regularly conducts
proceedings on traffic offenses, both misdemeanor crimes and
violation offenses. Lemhouse Decl. ¶ 2, ECF 25. He
states that in his experience, "most judges in Oregon
are willing to work with people to get them out of the
system." Lemhouse Decl. ¶ 16. But, he explains, a
person must appear in court and follow the court's
directions and procedures "for that to happen."
person with a suspended license comes into Lemhouse's
court for a driving while suspended violation, he talks to
the person about whether the person wants to get her or his
driving privileges reinstated. Id. ¶ 12. If the
person does, he defers sentencing and discusses what is
required for reinstatement and what kind of timeline is
necessary to accomplish certain tasks such as contacting each
of the courts to which the person owes a fine to try and make
payment arrangements, contacting the state support
enforcement division to address the person's unpaid child
support, if any, and contacting five or six insurance agents
to ascertain the cost of obtaining insurance. Id.
Lemhouse works with the person to schedule proposed payments
to the courts or the support enforcement division along with
the monthly insurance cost. Id. ¶ 13. At this
point, the person can show each of the courts that he or she
is seriously making an effort. Id. If necessary,
Lemhouse writes to the judge or judges in question supporting
the person's proposal. Id.; see also
id., Attach. A. With this process, Lemhouse reports that
more than half of the individuals succeed. Id.
Lemhouse allows equitable relief from judgment when a person
has made twenty-four consecutive payments on their payment
plans and has received no new convictions in that period.
Id. ¶ 15. If those requirements are
successfully completed, any remaining fine balance is
remitted in full. Id.
Karen Brisbin is a Municipal Judge for the City of Sandy and
a Justice of the Peace for Clackamas County Justice Court.
Brisbin Decl. ¶ 1, ECF 26. She hears traffic violation
cases and states that when a fine is imposed, the person may
pay in full or set up a payment plan. Id. ¶ 2.
The monthly payment may be different for each person based on
the ability to pay. Id. If the person is unable to
make a payment after the payment plan is set, and the person
is in contact with the court, the court will work with the
person to assure compliance with the court's order.
Id. In such cases, the person may be allowed to skip
a monthly payment or reduce the amount of the monthly payment
until the person can get back to work. Id. She
states: "The key is to keep in contact with the
individuals do not appear or do not contact the court, or
fail to continue to make their payments as part of a payment
plan, and when the court "cannot get the convicted
person's attention for compliance," the court will
issue the notice of suspension to the DMV to initiate
suspension procedures. Id. ¶ 3. Once the DMV
sends the sixty-day suspension notice, the person can contact
the court and get into compliance by paying the fine or
setting up a payment plan. Id. This allows the
person to entirely avoid the license suspension and the DMV
reinstatement fee. Id. Even post-suspension, the
person can obtain reinstatement by working with the court to
pay the fine via a payment plan. Id. According to
Brisbin, "[p]ersons may provide a letter to the judge
stating their financial hardship along with documentation to
resolve the license suspension." Id. Brisbin
observes that the notice of suspension issued by the DMV
"often . . . works so that the person contacts the court
who then works with the person to facilitate payment of the
fine. The system would not work nearly as well without the
suspension provisions in the statute." Id.
Judge Kathy Stinnett is a Justice of the Peace for Grant
County and is the President of the Oregon Justice of the
Peace Association. Stinnett Decl. ¶ 1, ECF 35. There are
twenty-eight justices of the peace who preside in
twenty-eight justice courts. Id. ¶ 1. They
heard 125, 918 traffic violation cases in the 2017-18 fiscal
year. Id. She submits her Declaration on behalf of
the Association. Id. After explaining how traffic
violation cases come to courts and what options the
individual has upon receiving a violation, she states that
"[j]udges are aware that the purpose of a traffic fine