State appeals ruling halting driver license suspensions for unpaid traffic fines

Michigan drivers license fees

LANSING, MICH. - Michigan’s Secretary of State is seeking an emergency stay of a federal judge’s ruling that the agency can no longer suspend driver licenses for nonpayment of traffic fines.

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker on Dec. 14 issued a preliminary injunction blocking the state from suspending driver licenses for those who can't afford to pay off court debts. She denied the state's request for a stay of that ruling on Friday.

But in an emergency motion filed Friday with the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyers from the Attorney General's Office accused Parker of "over-reaching" and said her order is overly vague and will create "monumental" problems for the Michigan Secretary of State's Office.

Parker issued the injunction in a lawsuit brought by a group called Equal Justice Under Law.

Parker said the law providing for license suspensions for unpaid fines likely violates constitutional due process requirements.

But the state argues Parker made a mistake by citing as an example of insufficient notice the fact that the website of the 43rd District Court did not warn motorists that nonpayment of fines could result in a license suspension.

No such notice is required, because the law itself puts motorists on notice that suspension can result from nonpayment, the Secretary of State argues.

"In the end, the district court is faulting the Secretary of State for not informing plaintiffs of information that is clearly spelled out in a statute," Assistant Attorney General Denise Barton said in a court filing.

Barton said the judge's preliminary injunction "represents a deep, unwarranted intrusion into Michigan's sovereignty and its traditional police powers."

The agency estimates about 392,000 drivers could seek a ruling on whether they are "unable to pay" their traffic debt, but the ruling provides no guidance on how someone's inability to pay should be determined, the court filing said.

The state asked the 6th Circuit to act to overturn the injunction by Thursday.

On Friday, in denying the request for a stay of her preliminary injunction, Parker said her ruling said nothing about reinstating driver licenses previously revoked and it "does not require defendant to restore anyone's license at this point."

Parker said she was "concerned about if and how drivers were informed that they could raise their indigency before their licenses were suspended, as defense counsel asserted they could."

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© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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