Hernandez v. California Department of Motor Vehicles (License Suspension)

Status: CLOSED

Rates of driver’s license suspensions due to a failure to appear or pay a ticket are directly correlated with poverty indicators and race. California has the highest fines and fees in the country ($500 for a red light ticket, for example), while over 40% of California families can’t afford a $400 emergency. The consequence is that people lose their license and then no longer have the ability to legally drive to work, their children’s schools, medical appointments, or anywhere else they need to go. 

Plaintiffs sued the California Department of Motor Vehicles for improperly suspending drivers’ licenses for failure to pay traffic fines or to appear to contest traffic tickets. Because its suspension practices exceeded its authority the suspensions were made without finding that a failure to pay or appear was willful, and such actions and practices are violations of the California Vehicle Code and the rights to due process and equal protection guaranteed under the California and U.S. Constitutions. The suit also alleges that the current practices unfairly discriminate against the poor in California. The suit was brought to stop the DMV’s practice of suspending licenses for failure to pay or to contest traffic citations absent a finding by the traffic court of willful failure to pay or appear. 

The class action lawsuit won on appeal, resulting in the release of approximately 900,000 license holds, allowing hundreds of thousands of Californians to drive to work, school, and medical appointments.

Co-Counsel/Partners: Bay Area Legal Aid, ACLU-Northern California, USC Gould School of Law, Western Center on Law & Poverty, East Bay Community Law Center, and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP