Lebanon woman gets license reinstated after court battle

Jacob Smith • Oct 13, 2017 at 3:00 PM

The U.S. District Court judge issued a temporary restraining order last week that called for the reinstatement of the driver’s licenses of Fred Robinson, of Murfreesboro, and Ashley Sprague, of Lebanon.

On Oct. 5, Judge Altea Trauger ordered the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security to reinstate Robinson and Sprague’s licenses by Oct. 11 or as soon after as possible.

The ruling came from a class-action lawsuit brought by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Civil Rights Corps, Just City and Baker Donelson. The lawsuit, Robinson v. Purkey, challenges Tennessee’s suspension of driver’s licenses of people too poor to pay traffic fines.

According to the complaint, Tennessee suspended more than a quarter of a million driver’s licenses for failure to pay traffic tickets, and in most cases, the drivers were too poor to pay.

The plaintiffs argued without their licenses, people couldn’t access jobs, health care, child care and other fundamental aspects of daily life.

Sprague, 26, of Lebanon was one of the plaintiffs in the case. Sprague is a single mother of five children, one of whom lives with her while the other four live with their grandparents because Sprague can’t afford to take care of them.

In April 2015, Sprague was fined $477.50 in Mt. Juliet for speeding and failure to provide proof of insurance.

According to the complaint, Sprague’s basic life expenses at the time far exceeded her income of $2.13 per hour plus tips.

Sprague’s license was suspended in September 2015 for failure to pay her traffic debt but, according to Sprague, she was never notified her license was suspended. The department allegedly never inquired into Sprague’s ability to pay the ticket or offered her the opportunity to be heard on the issue.

In March 2016, Sprague was fined $224.50 in Lebanon for failure to provide proof of insurance. The issuing officer didn’t issue her a ticket for driving on a suspended license or informed her that her license was suspended.

Sprague learned her license was suspended a month later when she was fined $244 in Lebanon for expired registration, failure to provide proof of insurance and driving on a suspended license.

The total amount of debt owed was $946, and Sprague was told that she wouldn’t get her license back until it was completely paid. She was also told small installments would not be accepted and only two lump sums of nearly $500 would work.

After losing her license, Sprague was not able to maintain a job for more than a few months at a time, because she did not have reliable transportation.

Trauger’s ruling Oct. 5 granted Sprague and Robinson a temporary restraining order for the reinstatement of their licenses pending a preliminary injunction scheduled for Oct. 20.

“We are pleased that the court has recognized the senselessness of Tennessee’s suspension policy,” said Sprague’s attorney Claudia Wilner, “The next step is to bring that same relief to the tens of thousands of Tennesseans who have also lost their licenses because of their poverty.”

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