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Case Name Wright v. Family Support Division CJ-MO-0025
Docket / Court 4:19-cv-00398-RLW ( E.D. Mo. )
State/Territory Missouri
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Attorney Organization Equal Justice Under Law
Case Summary
On March 4, 2019, two named plaintiffs filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri against the Missouri Department of Social Services Family Support Division as well as the Governor of Missouri, the Director of the Missouri Department of Social Services, the Director ... read more >
On March 4, 2019, two named plaintiffs filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri against the Missouri Department of Social Services Family Support Division as well as the Governor of Missouri, the Director of the Missouri Department of Social Services, the Director of the Family Support Division, the Director of the Department of Revenue and the Director of the Motor Vehicle and Driver Licensing Division.

Under Missouri law, the Family Support Division (“FSD”) has the authority to issue an order suspending the driver’s license of non-custodial parents that owe at least three months’ worth of child support payments or at least $2,500, whichever is less. The complaint challenged the statute, alleging that it perpetuates a cycle of poverty by unconstitutionally suspending the driver’s licenses of parents who are unable to pay child support. The plaintiffs brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201 and the Fourteenth Amendment.

The complaint alleged that the statute makes no inquiry into the reason for the nonpayment before ordering a license suspension and provides no notice about the procedure for contesting suspension. The plaintiffs claimed that the statute drives parents further into poverty because these individuals often lose their jobs because of lack of reliable transportation to travel to work. Further, parents who have had their licenses suspended are often unable to visit or help care for their children. Furthermore, the complaint raised the issue that noncustodial parents who cannot afford to make their child support payments are already criminalized under a different Missouri law that is punishable with fines and jail time.

The complaint alleged that once the licenses are suspended, it is extremely difficult to obtain reinstatement, even if the parent manages to start making regular payments because the reinstatement process is entirely without clear process, guidelines or communication. The plaintiffs argued that even attorneys making in-person visits to the child support offices, filing petitions with FSD, requesting hearings, and communicating directly with FSD could not navigate the process successfully.

Thus, the plaintiffs claimed that FSD’s indefinite suspension of non-custodial parents’ driver’s licenses because of their inability to pay child support violates their constitutional rights under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the suspensions violate substantive due process because they discriminate on the basis of wealth and are not narrowly tailored to the collection of child support, the best interests of children, or any compelling government interest. The complaint further alleged that the suspensions infringe on plaintiffs’ substantive due process because it violates their fundamental right to travel and violates their procedural due process because FSD does not guarantee a hearing or provide notice of a hearing. The complaint also alleged that the suspensions deprive the plaintiffs of equal protection because the defendants use their unique position as government actors to use debt collection methods that are not available to private creditors.

The two named plaintiffs filed the complaint on behalf of themselves and a class, defined as anyone who has had or will have his or her driver’s license suspended due to an inability to pay child support. The class sought declaratory and injunctive relief to enjoin the defendants from ordering and enforcing driver’s license suspensions, reinstate plaintiffs’ and class members’ driver’s licenses and grant reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs to the plaintiffs.

On August 30, 2019, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. The amended pleading added two new named defendants and supplemented the factual allegations of the original complaint. After filing their amended complaint, Plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction and a motion to certify a class on November 1, 2019.

The case was first assigned to District Judge Ronnie L. White and later reassigned to District Judge Rodney W. Sippel on February 5, 2020. On May 1, 2019, the court partially granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on all counts except the plaintiffs’ claim for violation of procedural due process. 2020 WL 2104766.

The case proceeded to discovery. On July 28, 2020, the court denied the plaintiffs’ Motion to Certify Class without prejudice and instructed the plaintiffs to refile it after the court issues an amended case management order. On September 24, 2020, the court held the plaintiffs Motion for Preliminary Injunction, filed on June 1, 2020, in abeyance until the court receives notification from the defendants that they plan to resume issuing new license suspensions for failure to pay child support.

The case remains ongoing.

Rebecca Fisher - 10/14/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Due Process: Procedural Due Process
Due Process: Substantive Due Process
Equal Protection
Right to travel
General
Fines/Fees/Bail/Bond
Parents (visitation, involvement)
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Director of the Department of Revenue
Director of the Family Support Division
Director of the Missouri Department of Social Services
Director of the Motor Vehicle and Driver Licensing Division
Governor of Missouri
Missouri Department of Social Services Family Support Division
Plaintiff Description Non-custodial parents in Missouri who failed to pay child support and had their driver's licenses suspended
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Equal Justice Under Law
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Pending
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 03/04/2019
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Wright v. Family Support Division
https://equaljusticeunderlaw.org/
Date: Mar. 4, 2019
By: Equal Justice Under Law
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
E.D. Mo.
10/01/2020
4:19-cv-00398
CJ-MO-0025-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
E.D. Mo.
03/04/2019
Class Action Jury Demanded [ECF# 1]
CJ-MO-0025-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. Mo.
08/30/2019
Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint [ECF# 22]
CJ-MO-0025-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. Mo.
11/01/2019
Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 45]
CJ-MO-0025-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. Mo.
11/01/2019
Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification [ECF# 46]
CJ-MO-0025-0007.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. Mo.
11/08/2019
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint [ECF# 49]
CJ-MO-0025-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. Mo.
11/08/2019
Defendants' Memorandum in Support of Their Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint [ECF# 50]
CJ-MO-0025-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. Mo.
05/01/2020
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 80] (2020 WL 2104766)
CJ-MO-0025-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
E.D. Mo.
06/01/2020
Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 83]
CJ-MO-0025-0008.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Sippel, Rodney W. (E.D. Mo., W.D. Mo.) show/hide docs
CJ-MO-0025-0004 | CJ-MO-0025-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Hatton, Marissa (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-MO-0025-0008 | CJ-MO-0025-9000
Lummus, Stephanie Michelle (Missouri) show/hide docs
CJ-MO-0025-0001 | CJ-MO-0025-0005 | CJ-MO-0025-0006 | CJ-MO-0025-0007 | CJ-MO-0025-0008 | CJ-MO-0025-9000
Ramaswamy, Rebecca R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-MO-0025-0001 | CJ-MO-0025-0005 | CJ-MO-0025-0006 | CJ-MO-0025-0007 | CJ-MO-0025-9000
Telfeyan, Phil (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-MO-0025-0001 | CJ-MO-0025-0005 | CJ-MO-0025-0006 | CJ-MO-0025-0007 | CJ-MO-0025-0008 | CJ-MO-0025-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Phillips, Robert Woods (Missouri) show/hide docs
CJ-MO-0025-0002 | CJ-MO-0025-0003 | CJ-MO-0025-9000
Robb, Laura M (Missouri) show/hide docs
CJ-MO-0025-0002 | CJ-MO-0025-0003 | CJ-MO-0025-9000
Schmitt, Eric (Missouri) show/hide docs
CJ-MO-0025-0002 | CJ-MO-0025-0003

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