Motley v. Taylor

Decision Date31 March 2020
Docket NumberCASE NO. 2:19-CV-478-WKW [WO]
Citation451 F.Supp.3d 1251
Parties Sharon MOTLEY, Plaintiff, v. Hal TAYLOR, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama

Danielle Davis, Pro Hac Vice, New Orleans, LA, Micah West, Sara Michelle Zampierin, Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, AL, for Plaintiff.

Brad A. Chynoweth, James William Davis, Laura Elizabeth Howell, State of Alabama Office of the Attorney General, Montgomery, AL, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

W. Keith Watkins, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION...1259

II. JURISDICTION AND VENUE...1259

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW...1259

IV. BACKGROUND...1260

A. Alabama's Driver's License-Suspension Scheme...1260
1. Receiving a Traffic Ticket ...1260
2. The State's Changes to the Traffic Ticket System ...1260
3. Courts' Authority to Impose Fines and to Suspend Licenses ...1261
a. Courts' Authority to Impose Fines...1261
b. Courts' Authority to Suspend Driver's Licenses...1261
4. Implementing Court-Ordered Suspensions ...1262
C. The Claim...1262

V. DISCUSSION...1263

D. Statute of Limitations...1269
F. The Merits...1279
1. Equal Protection ...1279
a. Heightened Scrutiny...1280 i. Jones Step 1...1280
ii. Walker's "Absolute Deprivation" Test ( Jones Step 1.5)...1284
b. Rational Basis Review...1285
2. Procedural Due Process ...1289
a. Notice...1289
b. Opportunity to be Heard...1290

VI. CONCLUSION...1292

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Sharon Motley is one of an estimated twenty-three thousand Alabamians whose licenses are suspended for failing to pay traffic tickets. She regularly faces difficult choices about how she will secure and retain employment, apply for housing, cash checks, and access medical care. Before the court are Plaintiff's motions for class certification (Doc. # 5) and for a preliminary injunction (Doc. # 3), which seek to put herself and similarly situated Alabamians back in the driver's seat. Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint (Doc. # 14) seeks to maintain the State's policy choice to keep these drivers off the road until their debts to the public fisc are paid. While the burdens Plaintiff bears are substantial, the Constitution does not provide her relief. Therefore, Defendant's motion to dismiss is due to be granted, and Plaintiff's motions are due to be denied as moot.

Plaintiff seeks a preliminary injunction (Doc. # 3) to prohibit Defendant Hal Taylor, head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA),1 from enforcing an Alabama rule that authorizes state courts to suspend indigent individuals' driver's licenses without finding that they willfully refused to pay. Plaintiff's preliminary injunction motion further seeks to require the State to reinstate licenses suspended under this rule and to notify affected individuals. Finally, Plaintiff moves to certify a class of similarly situated individuals. (Doc. # 5.) The State moved to dismiss (Doc. # 14) on procedural and jurisdictional grounds, as well as on the merits. This opinion addresses those motions.

II. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

Because this case involves a constitutional challenge to state actions, subject matter jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question). The parties do not dispute personal jurisdiction or venue.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) "tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8: ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.’ " Wilborn v. Jones , 761 F. App'x 908, 910 (11th Cir. 2019) (per curiam) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) ). "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.’ " Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. This standard "is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that [the] defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). "For purposes of Rule 12(b)(6) review, ... a court generally may not look beyond the pleadings." United States ex rel. Osheroff v. Humana Inc. , 776 F.3d 805, 811 (11th Cir. 2015). This court has adhered to this rule, except that it has considered two specifically identified facts that are properly the subject of judicial notice. See infra pp. 1270–71 & n.11, 1282 n.15.

The State challenges the court's subject matter jurisdiction by arguing that the case has been mooted by a subsequent revision to the statewide traffic ticket. An attack on subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) may be either a facial attack or a factual attack. Lawrence v. Dunbar , 919 F.2d 1525, 1528–29 (11th Cir. 1990) (per curiam). A facial attack simply challenges the sufficiency of the plaintiff's jurisdictional allegations, which are taken as true. Id. at 1529. Factual attacks challenge "the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the pleadings, and matters outside the pleadings, such as testimony and affidavits, are considered." Id. (quoting Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit Corp. , 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980) ). Defendant brings a factual attack on jurisdiction that requires the court to look beyond the allegations of the complaint and to the evidence presented by the parties. See MSPA Claims 1, LLC v. Tenet Fla., Inc. , 918 F.3d 1312, 1319 (11th Cir. 2019). Thus, in deciding the mootness issue raised by Defendant's motion, the court has reviewed all the evidence presented by the parties. Accordingly, the facts recounted and documents referenced in Parts IV.A.1. and 2. are considered solely for the purposes of deciding the 12(b)(1) motion.

IV. BACKGROUND

A. Alabama's Driver's License-Suspension Scheme
1. Receiving a Traffic Ticket

Alabama police officers are required by statute to use a uniform traffic ticket. See Ala. Code § 12-12-53(a). That statute is implemented by Alabama Rule of Judicial Administration 19(A), which the Alabama Supreme Court promulgates. Rule 19(A) provides what each traffic ticket must contain and includes the standard ticket form, called Form UTTC-1. Form UTTC-1 (Series N) was the standard traffic ticket throughout the state when Ms. Motley received her ticket in 2013. (Doc. # 7-20, at 2–3; Doc. # 1, ¶ 33, at 9.)2

The Series N ticket has a section entitled "NOTICE," which gives "INSTRUCTIONS TO THE DEFENDANT." The notice states that the defendant must appear in court on a given date unless he or she has already settled the case. It states that if the defendant fails to appear, the Department of Public Safety will be notified to suspend his or her license. (Doc. # 7-20, at 14.) Series N does not give notice that defendants who fail to pay their fines are subject to license suspension. (Doc. # 7-20, at 3, 14.)

2. The State's Changes to the Traffic Ticket System

On January 26, 2018, the Standing Committee on the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration recommended that the Alabama Supreme Court amend Rule 19(A) and the UTTC-1 ticket to include language notifying individuals who received traffic tickets that their licenses are subject to suspension for failure to pay fines or to enter into court-approved payment plans. On May 9, 2018, the Alabama Supreme Court entered an order amending Rule 19(A) to include the Standing Committee's proposed language. (Doc. # 7-20, at 3.)

On August 10, 2018, the Standing Committee recommended that the court adopt an updated Form UTTC-1 that includes: (1) the new notice language already approved by the court and (2) several corrective changes, such as replacing references to the "Department of Public Safety" with the "Alabama Law Enforcement Agency." Form UTTC-1 (Series P) contains the additional notice language approved by the court in the amendments to Rule 19(A). (Doc. # 7-20, at 4.)

Form UTTC-1 (Series P) was approved by the Alabama Supreme Court on November 30, 2018. (Doc. # 7-20, at 4.) Series P is now the operative uniform traffic ticket in Alabama.

3. Courts' Authority to Impose Fines and to Suspend Licenses
a. Courts' Authority to Impose Fines

Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure 26.11 (the "Rule") governs fines and restitution orders in state courts.3 Rule 26.11(b) provides that courts, in deciding whether to impose a fine, "should consider" five factors, including "the financial resources and obligations of the defendant and the burden that payment of a fine will impose," as well as the "ability of the defendant to pay a fine forthwith on an installment basis or on other conditions to be fixed by the court." Ala. R. Crim. P. 26.11(b)(2), (3) (emphasis added). If the defendant cannot pay the fine "immediately after pronouncement of the sentence as preferred, the court may permit payment ... at some later date, or in specified installments." Ala. R. Crim. P. 26.11(d).

If the defendant fails to pay a fine, the court "may inquire and cause an investigation to be made into the defendant's financial, employment, and family standing, and the reasons for nonpayment of the fine," including whether nonpayment "was contumacious or due to indigency," — that is, whether the defendant willfully chose not to pay or was simply too poor. Ala. R. Crim. P. 26.11(g) (emphasis added). The words should and may , when read in their ordinary sense, mean that courts are not required to consider the indigency of the defendant in deciding...

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