500 F.3d 523 (6th Cir. 2007), 06-5306, League of United Latin American Citizens v. Bredesen

Docket Nº:06-5306.
Citation:500 F.3d 523
Party Name:LEAGUE OF UNITED LATIN AMERICAN CITIZENS (LULAC), on behalf of its members; Yolanda Lewis, individually, as next friend of Sergio Chavez, and on behalf of all others similarly situated; and Alex M. Siguenza, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants, Geraldine M. Gurdian, individually and on behalf of all ot
Case Date:August 28, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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500 F.3d 523 (6th Cir. 2007)

LEAGUE OF UNITED LATIN AMERICAN CITIZENS (LULAC), on behalf of its members; Yolanda Lewis, individually, as next friend of Sergio Chavez, and on behalf of all others similarly situated; and Alex M. Siguenza, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

Geraldine M. Gurdian, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,

v.

Phil BREDESEN, Governor of the State of Tennessee; and Fred Phillips, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety, Defendants-Appellees,

Nancy Murray and Michael Allen, Defendants.

No. 06-5306.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

Aug. 28, 2007

Argued: March 13, 2007.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at Nashville. No. 04-00613-Todd J. Campbell, Chief District Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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ARGUED:

Jerry Gonzalez, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for Appellants.

Lynne T. Edgerton, Office of the Attorney General, State of Tennessee, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellees.

ON BRIEF:

Jerry Gonzalez, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for Appellants.

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Lynne T. Edgerton, Lizabeth A. Hale, Michael A. Meyer, Office of the Attorney General, State of Tennessee, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellees.

Before: NORRIS, GILMAN, and McKEAGUE, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

McKEAGUE, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a judgment dismissing claims challenging Tennessee's driver license law as violative of certain aliens' right to equal protection and right to travel. On due consideration of plaintiffs' complaint in light of the parties' appellate arguments, we affirm the district court's judgment that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

For purposes of this appeal, plaintiffs in the action below include: the League of United Latin American Citizens ("LULAC"), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the interests of the Hispanic population in the United States; Yolanda Lewis, a citizen of Mexico and resident of Tennessee, proceeding on her own behalf and on behalf of her minor son, Sergio Chavez; and Alex M. Siguenza, a citizen of Nicaragua and resident of Tennessee. Defendants, sued in their official capacities, are Phil Bredesen, Governor of Tennessee; and Fred Phillips, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety.

In June 2004, plaintiff Alex Siguenza attempted to renew his Tennessee driver license in Nashville. When he admitted that he was neither a United States citizen nor a lawful permanent resident, he was advised that he could not be issued a new driver license, but only a certificate for driving. On July 9, 2004, plaintiff Yolanda Lewis attempted to obtain a Tennessee identification card for her 8-year old son, Sergio Chavez, in Nashville. When she disclosed that Sergio was neither a United States citizen nor a lawful permanent resident, she was told that he was not entitled to any state-issued identification document. As a non-lawful permanent resident, plaintiff Lewis, too, is not eligible for a driver license under Tennessee law.

Plaintiffs commenced this putative class action in the Middle District of Tennessee on July 12, 2004. Plaintiff LULAC proceeds on behalf of its members (over 115,000 throughout the United States); Lewis proceeds on behalf of herself and her minor son and all others similarly situated; and Siguenza proceeds on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated. The first amended complaint contains nine counts. Only two are relevant to this appeal. Both challenge provisions of 2004 Public Acts Chapter 778, amending Tennessee's driver license law, which became effective July 1, 2004. In count I, plaintiffs proceed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and allege that Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-321(c)(l)(C), conditioning issuance of a driver license upon proof of United States citizenship or lawful permanent resident status, is a classification based on alienage that denies them equal protection of the law. In count VI, plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment to the effect that Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-321(c)(l)(C), by denying a driver license to some aliens, impermissibly burdens aliens' fundamental right to travel. That lawful temporary resident aliens may obtain a "certificate for driving" instead, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-331(g), is said not to be an adequate substitute, because

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the certificate for driving, unlike a driver license, is explicitly "not valid for identification." Tenn. Code Ann. §55-50-102(6). Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction to enjoin implementation of Chapter 778 and enjoin issuance of certificates for driving to aliens in lieu of driver licenses. Plaintiffs also asked the court to require defendants to convert all certificates for driving already issued during 2004 into driver licenses.

In an opinion and order dated September 28, 2004, the district court denied plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction. League of United Latin American Citizens v. Bredesen, No. 3:04-0613, 2004 WL 3048724 (M.D. Tenn. Sept.28, 2004). This ruling has not been appealed. On November 23, 2004, the court granted the state defendants' motion to dismiss, thereby dismissing the claims contained in counts I and VI, which are the subject of this appeal. Incorporating by reference the reasoning set forth in its opinion denying preliminary injunction, the district court held that neither the equal protection claim nor the right to travel claim stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. The court concluded that issuance of a certificate for driving instead of a driver license does not infringe aliens' right to travel. Id. at *4-5. The court also concluded that the classification, treating illegal aliens and lawful temporary resident aliens differently than lawful permanent resident aliens, does not discriminate against a suspect class and does not burden a fundamental right. The court therefore held that the classification is subject to "rational basis" scrutiny. Applying rational basis scrutiny, the court went on to hold that the classification is rationally related to legitimate governmental purposes and is therefore not violative of equal protection. Id. at *5-6. The district court dismissed the claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A final judgment order was entered on January 19, 2006 and this appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

Whether the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs' claims under Rule 12(b)(6) is a question of law subject to de novo review. Kottmyer v. Maas, 436 F.3d 684, 688 (6th Cir. 2006). The court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, accept all well-pled factual allegations as true and determine whether plaintiffs undoubtedly can prove no set of facts consistent with their allegations that would entitle them to relief. Id. Though decidedly liberal, this standard does require more than bare assertions of legal conclusions. Bovee v. Coopers & Lybrand C.P.A., 272 F.3d 356, 361 (6th Cir. 2001). Plaintiffs' obligation to provide the "grounds" of their entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of the cause of action. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, --- U.S. ----, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The factual allegations, assumed to be true, must do more than create speculation or suspicion of a legally cognizable cause of action; they must show entitlement to relief. Id. at 1965. To state a valid claim, a complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory. Id. at 1969.

B. Standing

In granting the state defendants' motion to dismiss, the district court rejected their arguments that plaintiffs lacked standing to prosecute their claims. LULAC, 2004 WL 3048724 at *2. Accepting the allegations of plaintiffs' complaint at face value, the district court was satisfied that LULAC

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met the requirements of organizational standing as defined in American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation, Inc. v. Ashbrook, 375 F.3d 484, 489 (6th Cir. 2004).1

The district court was similarly unpersuaded by the state defendants' contention that only illegal aliens, who are not members of a suspect class and are therefore entitled only to minimal protection under the Equal Protection Clause, would even arguably suffer the sort of harm that would confer standing to bring these claims, because only illegal aliens are denied both a driver license and a certificate for driving under the new Tennessee law.2 The court took note of plaintiffs' allegations that lawful temporary resident aliens, as a result of being issued a "not valid for identification" certificate for driving in lieu of a driver license, could experience difficulties in producing "satisfactory evidence of identification." See First Amended Complaint ¶ ¶ 22-27. This "satisfactory evidence of identification" is required under various provisions of Tennessee law in order to render a person charged with a misdemeanor offense or traffic rule violation eligible for issuance of a citation in lieu of arrest. See, e.g., Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-7-118(c)(3).3 Hence, plaintiffs impliedly allege that the denial of a driver license (a) makes it necessary for a lawful temporary resident alien to carry his or her passport and/or other immigration documents for personal identification purposes; and (b) increases the risk that he or she will be subject to arrest for any suspected minor infraction simply because a law enforcement officer may find his or her proof of identification...

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