United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WATKINS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Lakendra Cook and Sharon Motley, two indigent Alabama
residents, currently have suspended driver's licenses.
Those licenses were suspended by state courts because
Plaintiffs failed to pay their traffic tickets. Plaintiffs
say those suspensions were unconstitutional because the
courts did not consider whether Plaintiffs were unable to pay
through no fault of their own. Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit
to get their licenses back.
they filed suit, Plaintiffs also had license suspensions for
failing to appear in court for different traffic
tickets. Plaintiffs do not challenge those suspensions. And
those suspensions mean that the court cannot give Plaintiffs
what they want: the reinstatement of their driver's
licenses. And since the court cannot give Plaintiffs what
they want, they lack standing to bring this suit.
seek a preliminary injunction (Doc. # 2) to prohibit
Defendant Hal Taylor, head of the Alabama Law Enforcement
Agency (ALEA),  from enforcing an Alabama rule that
authorizes state courts to suspend indigent individuals'
driver's licenses without finding that they willfully
refused to pay. Plaintiffs also seek an order requiring the
State to reinstate licenses suspended under this rule.
Finally, Plaintiffs move to certify a class of similarly
situated individuals. (Doc. # 4.) The State moved to dismiss
(Doc. # 20) on jurisdictional grounds as well as on the
merits. This opinion addresses those motions.
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
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
contest personal jurisdiction or venue.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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). A facial attack simply challenges
the sufficiency of the plaintiff's jurisdictional
allegations, which are taken as true. Id. at 1529
(quotation omitted). Factual attacks, however, 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. (quotation omitted). The
State attacks Plaintiffs' standing based on their
separate license suspensions for failing to appear in court.
This is 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, 1318-19 (11th
Cir. 2019). Thus, in deciding the motion, the court has
reviewed all the evidence presented by the parties.
Alabama's Driver's License-Suspension
a Traffic Ticket
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 is promulgated by the Alabama
Supreme Court. Rule 19(A) provides what each traffic ticket
must contain and includes the standard ticket form, called
Form UTTC-1. Prior to November 30, 2018, Form UTTC-1 (Series
N) was the standard traffic ticket throughout the state.
(Doc. # 20-4, at 2.)
Series N ticket has a section entitled “NOTICE, ”
which gives “INSTRUCTIONS TO THE DEFENDANT.”
(Doc. # 20-4, at 14.) The notice states that the defendant
must appear in court on a given date unless she has already
settled the case. If the defendant fails to appear, the
Department of Public Safety will be notified to suspend her
license. (Doc. # 20-4, at 14.) Series N does not give notice
that defendants who fail to pay their fines are subject to
license suspension. (Doc. # 20-4, at 3.)
The State's Changes to the Traffic Ticket
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 persons who received traffic
tickets that their license is subject to suspension for
failure to pay fines or enter into a court-approved payment
plan. (Doc. # 20-4, at 3.) On May 9, 2018, the Alabama
Supreme Court entered an order amending Rule 19(A) to include
the Standing Committee's proposed language. (Doc. # 20-4,
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.” (Doc. # 20-4,
at 4.) Form UTTC-1 (Series P) contains the additional notice
language approved by the court in the amendments to Rule
19(A). (Doc. # 20-4, at 3.)
UTTC-1 (Series P) was approved by the Alabama Supreme Court
on November 30, 2019, eleven days after this lawsuit was
filed. (Doc. # 20-4, at 4.) Series P is now the operative
uniform traffic ticket in Alabama.
Courts' Authority to Impose Fines and Suspend
Courts' Authority to Impose Fines
Rule of Criminal Procedure 26.11 governs fines and
restitutions in state courts. 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).
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 whether to impose a fine or in
determining why a fine has not been paid.
Courts' Authority to Suspend Driver's
court imposes a fine for a traffic violation, it “may
suspend” the defendant's driver's license
“upon a failure of a defendant to comply with the order
of the court” - that is, when the defendant fails to
pay the fine. Ala. R. Crim. P. 26.11(i)(3). And the license
“may remain suspended until the total amount of the
fine” has been paid. Id.
Implementing Court-Ordered Suspensions
effectuate a license suspension, the court sends a form,
called a UTC-25, to the Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency
(ALEA). (Docs. # 6-3, at 3.) That form contains a
box that the judge or clerk must check certifying that the
defendant was ordered to pay a fine and failed to pay. (Doc.
# 6-2.) ALEA then mails a notice to the defendant that her
license has been suspended. (Doc. # 6-4.)
defendant receives a traffic ticket and fails to show up on
her court date, a separate provision governs. Upon receiving
“written notice from the court” that the
defendant failed to appear, ALEA “shall suspend the
driver license and driving privilege of the defaulting driver