United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division
CINDY MENDOZA; GLORIA BERMUDEZ; LORI SPANO; 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 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 Sadie Forzely Beth
Andrews ASSISTANT ATTORNEYS GENERAL, Department of Justice,
Attorneys for Defendants
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 and
attendant fees and costs, 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 Matthew Garrett, the Director of the Oregon
Department of Transportation (ODOT), and Tom McClellan, the
Administrator of ODOT's Driver and Motor Vehicles
Division. Together, they are "the DMV."
case was filed in September 2018. Simultaneously with filing
the original Complaint, Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary
injunction and to certify the class. After the October 11,
2018 oral argument on the preliminary injunction motion,
Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint (FAC). In a
December 12, 2018 Opinion & Order, I denied
Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction.
Mendoza v. Garrett, 358 F.Supp.3d 1145 (D. Or. 2018)
("the PI Opinion"). In January 2019, Plaintiffs
withdrew the class certification motion. ECF 44. In February
2019, the parties reported that they had stipulated to
Plaintiffs' filing a Second Amended Complaint and that
Defendants would challenge the sufficiency of that pleading
with a motion to dismiss. The Second Amended Complaint (SAC)
was filed February 25, 2019, ECF 47, and the motion to
dismiss briefing is now complete.
bring four claims, each alleging a violation of due process,
equal protection, or both. In their motion to dismiss,
Defendants raise several jurisdictional challenges and
additionally argue that all of the claims fail to state a
claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Because
I agree with Defendants that the claims fail to state a
claim, I assume without deciding and for the purposes of this
Opinion only, that the Court has jurisdiction. Nonetheless, I
grant Defendants' motion.
Opinion contains an extensive discussion of the alleged
facts, the Oregon statutory scheme, and the evidence
presented in conjunction with the preliminary injunction
motion. PI Op., 358 F.Supp.3d at 1150-62. I do not repeat
that discussion here because much of it is still relevant
even in the context of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.
Many of the factual allegations noted in the PI Opinion are
repeated in the SAC. All references in the PI Opinion to the
text of Oregon statutes remain valid. Any other relevant
factual assertions are noted in the discussion below.
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim may be granted
only when there is no cognizable legal theory to support the
claim or when the complaint lacks sufficient factual
allegations to state a facially plausible claim for relief.
Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc., 622
F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010). In evaluating the
sufficiency of a complaint's factual allegations, the
court must accept all material facts alleged in the complaint
as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Wilson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 668
F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir. 2012). However, the court need not
accept unsupported conclusory allegations as truthful.
Holden v. Hagopian, 978 F.2d 1115, 1121 (9th Cir.
1992); see also Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide,
Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2003) ("we do
not necessarily assume the truth of legal conclusions merely
because they are cast in the form of factual
allegations") (internal quotation marks and alterations
omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint
"must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face[, ]" meaning "when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Nature of the Claims in the SAC
SAC, Plaintiffs bring the same three claims they previously
raised, plus one more. All of the claims assert violations of
rights under the Fourteenth Amendment's due process
and/or equal protection clauses. The SAC's first claim is
identical to the FAC's first claim and relies on the
"fundamental fairness" concept of substantive due
process and equal protection as explained by the Supreme
Court in cases such as Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S.
12 (1956), and Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660
(1983). SAC ¶¶ 234-39. Plaintiffs contend that
under Griffin, "states must provide an
evaluation of ability to pay to assess an individual's
indigence prior to  taking any measure that could result in
any additional punishment beyond that imposed upon
financially solvent individuals." Id. ¶
237; see also Id. ¶ 238 (citing
Bearden and alleging that the "Fourteenth
Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses
prohibit punishing individuals for non-payment without first
determining that they had the ability to pay and willfully
refused to make a monetary payment.").
their second claim, a repeat of the previously-asserted
second claim in the FAC, Plaintiffs rely only on the Equal
Protection Clause. Id. ¶¶ 240-42.
Specifically, they rely on James v. Strange, 407
U.S. 128 (1972), to contend that the state may not
distinguish indigent traffic debt debtors from other indigent
debtors. Id. They assert that under
Strange, equal protection principles are violated by
statutes which result in the DMV treating indigent traffic
debtors worse than indigent debtors who ...