In The News

In The News

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The 6th Circuit Stays a Lower Court Order on Michigan Driver License Suspensions

By Michael Nichols
Categories: Stephanie Tzafaroglou

The 6th Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals granted a stay to the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) but hinted that the reprieve is only temporary. A group of driver license holders sued the SOS over the practice of suspending driver licenses over unpaid tickets, without first holding a hearing on the ability of the person to pay. The case is titled Fowler, Harris, et al v Ruth Johnson.

The lower court granted a preliminary injunction in mid-December, preventing the SOS from suspending driver licenses until further notice. U.S. District Court Judge Linda Parker issued the ruling on December 14th, 2017 - holding that the state was not permitted to summarily suspend driver licenses without a hearing first on "ability to pay" primarily because the practice affected poor people inordinately.

The SOS filed an emergency appeal with the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit of the United States, seeking to put a hold on a lower federal court ruling. The 6th Circuit granted the stay for 30 days effective December 28th, 2017. However, the appellate panel said that "the likelihood of success on the merits" of the appeal was not demonstrated by lawyers for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. The Court held that the lower court should give the state more guidance on what specific actions should be taken in order to comply with the ruling.

The appellate panel remanded the matter back to the district court for the limited purpose of modifying the relief granted so as to give state officials direction on the type of process is required in order to comply with its order.

Under current Michigan Law, the Secretary of State must immediately suspend the license of a driver, who does not pay a traffic ticket within 42 days. MCL 257.321a(2). After the license is suspended, the driver must pay the underlying ticket, late fee, and a $45 clearance fee to have the ticket reinstated. MCL 257.321a(5).

A Civil rights organization "Equal Justice Under Law" filed the lawsuit on behalf of the affected plaintiffs, arguing that the statute violates procedural due process and unfairly prejudices those who cannot afford to pay traffic tickets. One report states that Michigan is one of the 5 harshest states in the country for suspending drivers licenses for unpaid tickets. The preliminary injunction stops the suspension of licenses for unpaid tickets pending the resolution of the underlying tickets.

Suspensions due to unpaid tickets are often the basis of Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) charges- a misdemeanor criminal offense with additional fines and costs with a separate reinstatement fee paid to the Michigan Secretary of State. Many drivers are not aware their license is suspended. It is not until they are stopped by law enforcement and charge with DWLS are they aware of the suspension.

If you are battling the Secretary of State over a license suspension, find out why we are committed to results: contact the Nichols Law Firm at (517) 432-9000; or e-mail attorney Stephanie Tzafaroglou at stzafaroglou@nicholslaw.net

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Peer Recognition

Mike Nichols is a national leader in drunk driving defense. He is a member of the Forensic Committee and Michigan delegate to the National College for DUI Defense. He is also a Sustaining Member of the College. Nichols is also a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a member of the American Chemical Society; an associate member of he American Academy of Forensic Science, Adjunct Professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Cooley Law School. He is also author of the West OWI Practice book and several chapters in other books on science and the law.

Mike Nichols is recognized by his peers in Michigan as a “SuperLawyer” in DUI/Criminal Defense. Nichols has also been asked to speak at conferences by groups such as the NCDD; Various Bar Associations in other states.