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Prescription rules counteract equal protection claims



Sharon Motley appealed the district court’s rejection of her alleged class action lawsuit against Hal Taylor in his official capacity as secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (“ALEA”) for failing to warn her that her driver’s license was revoked. IN Sharon Motley, on behalf of herself and those similarly opposed to Hal Taylor, in her official capacity as Secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agencyno. 20-11688, United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit (12 May 2022)

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 2013, Montgomery County District Court ordered Motley to pay fines and court costs after pleading guilty to a traffic fine. Motley did not pay for the ticket because she could not afford to do so. Motley’s driver’s license was confiscated because she did not pay her fine. She had not been notified in advance that her driving license would be revoked if she did not pay for the ticket. Before confiscating her driving license for failure to pay, neither the court nor the ALEA – which administers all state laws relating to the operation of vehicles – held a hearing to determine whether her failure to pay was intentional.

Employers withdrew job offers to Motley after finding out Motley’s revoked driver’s license because it was impossible for her without a valid driver’s license to perform certain job functions such as deposit checks or travel to work.

Motley’s trial

Motley sued Taylor in her official capacity and sought declaratory and injunction on behalf of herself and a presumed class of “[a]All persons whose driving licenses have been revoked due to non-payment of traffic tickets. “

Motley’s complaint stated in a single statement that Alabama R. Crim. P. 26.11 (i) (3) – which allows license suspensions for failure to pay traffic fines – violates the clauses of equal protection and due process in the Fourteenth Amendment.

Motley specifically argued that Rule 26.11 (i) (3) allows for the revocation of a driving license for non-payment of traffic fines or court costs without prior notice, the possibility of being heard or an express finding that the individual can pay and knowingly failed to do so.

The district court (1) rejected Taylor’s claim for inadmissibility in so far as it was based on the statute of limitations, but (2) upheld Taylor’s claim for inadmissibility for failure to state a substantive claim.

DISCUSSION

The parties agree that, since Motley filed his claim under section 42 of the 1983 USC in Alabama, the applicable limitation period is two years. The limitation period begins to apply on the day on which the facts which would support an action are obvious or should be obvious to a person with a reasonable prudent consideration of his rights.

This was stated by the district court

  • the state court suspended Motley’s driver’s license for failure to pay in December 2013; and
  • she knew or should have known about her revoked driver’s license before July 3, 2017.

Motley’s two-year clock thus began to run sometime before 3 July 2017 and her claim was statute-barred unless an exception from the statute of limitations applies.

THERE IS AN EXCEPTION IN THE STATUTE

Motley argued that the indefinite suspension of her license was a continuing violation. A plaintiff can raise an otherwise statute-barred claim when further violations occur within the statutory time. By applying the doctrine of continued violation, the Court of Appeal must distinguish between the current consequence of a one-time infringement, which does not extend the limitation period, and the continuation of this violation into the present, which it does. The continued doctrine of violation is triggered not only because the damage caused by the defendant’s actions continues after the limitation period.

Motley claimed continued injury, not continued violation. While Motley’s claim covers equal protection damage, that damage stems from the alleged infringements of the proceedings, all of which occurred on 20 December 2013 or before 20 December 2013, when her license was suspended.

The court concluded that all of Motley’s alleged injuries stemmed from the 2013 revocation of her driver’s license without the possibility of being heard or proving her improperness. Her claim is therefore statute-barred.

Motley’s claim against Taylor arose at least sometime before July 3, 2017. Thus, her complaint came out of time when she filed it on July 3, 2019. And the continued doctrine of violation does not apply to save her from the limitation period.

Outdated allegations make it impossible for a court to deal fairly with an allegation of error because witnesses either forget or are not available to testify. No disputing party should have to defend itself against an obsolete claim. Motley, perhaps because the trial was frivolous, waited four years after a lawsuit had been filed to bring an action and therefore her case was dismissed and the court’s decision upheld.


(c) 2022 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his internship to the position of insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as a lawyer for insurance coverage and claims management and more than 54 years in the insurance industry. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and zalma@zalma.com.

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