District Judge directs Tennessee Commissioner to reinstate licenses to indigent drivers.

Last week, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee issued a Temporary Restraining Order directing the immediate reinstatement of the driver’s licenses of Fred Robinson and Ashley Sprague, named plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit brought by NCLEJ, Civil Rights Corps, Just City, and Baker Donelson.  The lawsuit, Robinson v. Purkey, challenges Tennessee’s unlawful suspension of driver’s licenses of people too poor to pay traffic fines.

Tennessee has suspended more than a quarter of a million driver’s licenses for failure to pay traffic tickets.  In most cases, the drivers were too poor to pay. Without their licenses, people cannot access jobs, health care, child care, and other fundamental aspects of daily life. The reinstatement of these licenses will bring some temporary relief to these Plaintiffs, but systemic changes are needed to address the continuing harm Tennessee’s practice inflicts on the poor. To that end, NCLEJ and cocounsel have also sought preliminary injunctive relief on behalf of the class.

Robinson is a companion case to Thomas v. Purkey, which NCLEJ filed in January (also with Civil Rights Corps, Just City, and Baker Donelson) on behalf of low-income people in Tennessee whose licenses were revoked because they could not pay fines and fees arising from criminal prosecutions. The cases are part of NCLEJ’s initiative to combat unfair and abusive debt collection practices. For more information, contact Claudia Wilner, wilner@nclej.org.

Read the full court order