U.S. case law: licence v freedom of travel

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I have read quite a few comments from people online in Australia, that there exists in the U.S. a legal method that allows Americans to drive without a license. Before I lay this myth to rest with two appeal cases in the Federal Courts, I will elaborate on the right to freedom of travel in U.S. law…

While the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a protected right to interstate travel, (Saenz v. Roe) and the Sixth Circuit has recognized a protected right to intrastate travel, i.e., “a right to travel locally through public spaces and roadways,” (Johnson v. City of Cincinnati)

Yet, the District Court held the protected right to travel does not embody a right to a driver license or a right to a particular mode of transportation, citing Duncan v. Cone, 2000 WL holding:

“there is no fundamental right to drive a motor vehicle.”

John Doe No. 1 v. Georgia Department of Public Safety, observed that

“the Circuit Courts have uniformly held that burdens on a single mode of transportation do not implicate the right to interstate travel”

Further, the District Court held that the right to travel, whatever its contours, is not infrin  ged by Chapter 778 because a person who receives a certificate for driving is able to operate a motor vehicle just like a person who receives a driver license. (Lulac, 2004) Potential difficulties that may be experienced by one who does not have a driver license to use for identification purposes, were held not to implicate the right to travel.

In Saenz, the Supreme Court identified three components of the right to travel:

“It protects the right of a citizen of one State to enter and to leave another State, the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than an unfriendly alien when temporarily present in the second State, and, for those travelers who elect to become permanent residents, the right to be treated like other citizens in that State.”

“A state law implicates the right to travel when it actually deters travel, when impeding travel is its primary objective, or when it uses a classification that serves to penalize the exercise of the right.” ~ Attorney General of New York v. Soto-Lopez

“Tennessee’s issuance of certificates for driving, which confer all the same driving privileges as driver licenses, is clearly not designed primarily to impede travel and can hardly be said to deter or penalize travel. The state’s denial of state-issued photograph identification to temporary resident aliens may arguably result in inconvenience, requiring the bearer of a certificate for driving to carry other personal identification papers, but this inconvenience can hardly be said to deter or penalize travel. To the extent this inconvenience burdens exercise of the right to travel at all, the burden is incidental and negligible, insufficient to implicate denial of the right to travel.” ~ Town of Southold v. Town of East Hampton

U.S. case law recognises that “citizens do not have a constitutional right to the most convenient form of travel. Something more than a negligible or minimal impact on the right to travel is required before strict scrutiny is applied.” ~ State of Kansas v. United States

The two following cases confirm that U.S. Federal Court will uphold a states legislative authority to issue citations for unlicensed driving regardless of the defense of the right to freedom of travel among other things…

(1)

GEORGE TAYLOR DUNCAN; CHRISTINE JOSEE NELLY DUNCAN, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. LINDA CONE, Branch Supervisor, TN Department of Safety, Issuance Division; TIM STRINGFIELD, Issuance Division Manager, TN Department of Safety, Issuance Division; TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF SAFETY, Issuance Division, Defendants-Appellees. No. 00-5705 UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 33221 December 7, 2000, Filed  PRIOR HISTORY: Western District of Tennessee. 00-01110. Todd. 4-27-00. DISPOSITION: Affirmed.

CASE SUMMARY PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Plaintiffs appealed from judgment of the Western District of Tennessee, which dismissed their civil rights suit purportedly filed pursuant to 18 U.S.C.S. § 242, 42 U.S.C.S. § 408(a)(8), § 7(a) of the Privacy Act of 1974, U.S. Const. amend. I, and state law.

OVERVIEW: Plaintiffs applied for driver’s licenses, but were denied by defendant agency and defendant employees for plaintiffs’ failure, due to religious reasons, to list their social security numbers on the applications. Plaintiffs claimed that defendants’ actions violated their right to free exercise of their religion. Plaintiff brought suit pursuant to 18 U.S.C.S. § 242, 42 U.S.C.S. § 408(a)(8), § 7(a) of the Privacy Act of 1974, U.S. Const. amend. I, and state law. The district court dismissed their claims as frivolous, and plaintiffs appealed. Upon review, judgment was affirmed. The district court properly dismissed plaintiffs’ claims as frivolous. Neither § 242 nor § 408(a)(8) provided for a private cause of action. While a fundamental right to travel existed, the denial of driver’s licenses did not infringe on plaintiffs’ right to travel by other modes of transportation. It only prevented them from driving a vehicle. Consequently, plaintiffs’ right to freely exercise their religion and their right to travel had not been impermissibly infringed.

OUTCOME: Judgment affirmed. The district court properly dismissed plaintiffs’ claims as frivolous. Neither criminal statute sued under provided for a private cause of action.

“While a fundamental right to travel existed, denial of driver’s licenses did not infringe on plaintiffs’ right to travel by other modes of transportation.”

(2)

WILLIE C. McGHEE, Plaintiff, v. LT. MICHAEL McCALL, et al., Defendants.
Case No. 1:10-cv-333UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN, SOUTHERN DIVISION 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52362 April 19, 2010
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Adopted by, Complaint dismissed at McGhee v. McCall, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52356 (W.D. Mich., May 27, 2010) COUNSEL: [*1] Willie C. McGhee, plaintiff,  Pro se, Kalamazoo, MI. JUDGES: Joseph G. Scoville , United States Magistrate Judge. Honorable Paul L. Maloney.

This is a civil action brought by a pro se plaintiff against a lieutenant and other unnamed officers of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety. Plaintiff’s complaint alleges that officers of the City of Kalamazoo have insisted that plaintiff have a driver’s license and current license plate tags as a prerequisite to driving on the streets of the State of Michigan, in violation of plaintiff’s federal constitutional right to travel. Plaintiff alleges that a driver’s license and license plate tags are only necessary when a person is using the roads for purposes of commerce and that, as a “national citizen” of the United States, plaintiff has the right to travel on the roads of the state unencumbered by state licensing laws. Plaintiff seeks an award of damages for relief.

The court has granted plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis, in light of his  indigence. Under the provisions of federal law, PUB. L. No. 104-134, 110 STAT. 1321 (1996), the court is required to dismiss any action brought under federal law in [*2] forma pauperis if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). An action may be dismissed as frivolous if “it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 109 S. Ct. 1827, 104 L. Ed. 2d 338 (1989). Accordingly, an action is frivolous within the meaning of section 1915(e)(2) when it is based on either an inarguable legal conclusion or fanciful factual allegations. 490 U.S. at 325

In deciding whether the complaint states a claim, the court applies the standards applicable to Rule 12(b)(6) motions. The complaint must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2)).

While this notice pleading standard does not require “detailed” factual allegations, it does require more than the bare assertion of legal conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable [*3] to plaintiff, accept the plaintiff’s factual allegations as true, and draw all reasonable factual inferences in plaintiff’s favor. See DirecTV, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007). The court need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. DirecTV, 487 F.3d at 476. Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by licensed attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S. Ct. 2197, 167 L. Ed. 2d 1081 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S. Ct. 594, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652 (1972). However, even the lenient treatment generally given pro se pleadings has its limits. See Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108, 110 (6th Cir. 1991). “[T]o survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory.” Bishop v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 520 F.3d 516, 519 (6th Cir. 2008).

Plaintiff challenges the laws of the State of Michigan requiring a driver’s license and valid license plate tags as an abridgement of his constitutional right to travel. The Supreme Court has identified the right to interstate travel as a fundamental right of United States citizenship, [*4] protected from abridgement by the states. See Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489, 500-01, 119 S. Ct. 1518, 143 L. Ed. 2d 689 (1999).

The Supreme Court has long held, however, that the states have the power to regulate the use of motor vehicles on their highways. See, e.g., Kane v. New Jersey, 242 U.S. 160, 37 S. Ct. 30, 61 L. Ed. 222 (1916). Therefore, state-created burdens placed on travel generally and in a nondiscriminatory fashion, such as gasoline taxes, licensing requirements, and tolls do not constitute a violation of the right to travel, as they only place a negligible burden on commerce. See Miller v. Reed, 176 F.3d 1202, 1205 (9th Cir. 1999); Kansas v. United States, 16 F.3d 436, 442, 305 U.S. App. D.C. 14 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Furthermore, the federal courts unanimously hold that there is no fundamental right to drive a motor vehicle. See Duncan v. Cone, No. 00-5705, 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 33221, 2000 WL 1828089 at * 2 (6th Cir. Dec. 7, 2000) (“While a fundamental right to travel exists, there is no fundamental right to drive a motor vehicle.”) (citing Miller, 176 F.3d at 1205-06).

Consequently, plaintiff’s civil action is premised on an inarguable legal conclusion. Plaintiff asserts that the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety has insisted on his compliance with state driver’s license and vehicle [*5] licensing laws as a condition to plaintiff’s ability to operate a motor vehicle on the roads of this state. Plaintiff asserts that defendants have thereby violated his constitutional right to travel, but this contention is untenable. State driver’s license laws impose only an “incidental and negligible” burden on the exercise of right to travel, a burden insufficient to implicate denial of the right. League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 535 (6th Cir. 2007). There is simply no fundamental right to drive a motor vehicle. Id. at 534.

Consequently, the federal courts uniformly reject suits by plaintiffs who seek vindication of their nonexistent “right” to operate motor vehicles without complying with state licensing laws. See, e.g., Matthew v. Honish, 233 F. App’x 563, 564 (7th Cir. 2007); Hallstrom v. City of Garden City, 991 F.2d 1473, 1477 (9th Cir. 1993); Aziza El v. City of Southfield, No. 09-11569, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26560, 2010 WL 1063825, at * 5 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 22, 2010); Nevada v. Matlean, No. 3:08cv505, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53228, 2009 WL 1810759, at * 2 (D. Nev. June 24, 2009); John Doe No. 1 v. Georgia Dep’t of Pub. Safety, 147 F. Supp. 2d 1369, 1375 (N.D. Ga. 2001); Kaltenbach v. Breaux, 690 F. Supp. 1551, 1553-55 (W.D. La. 1988). [*6] As the court summarized the rule in the John Doe case:

“A legal resident of Georgia does not have a constitutional right to a driver’s license.
Regulation of the driving privilege is a quintessential example of the exercise of the police power of the state, and the denial of a single mode of transportation does not rise to the level of a violation of the fundamental right to interstate travel.”

147 F. Supp. 2d at 1375. Plaintiff’s complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. I therefore recommend that it be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).
Dated: April 19, 2010 Joseph G. Scoville United States Magistrate Judge

There is no “COMMON LAW RIGHT” to “TRAVEL” [unlicenced, by “automobile”] in the U.S. – There’s no “CONTRACTUAL RIGHT TO DRIVE” in the U.S. either, nor any “RIGHT TO DRIVE UNLICENCED” in any U.S. state. The privilage of driving is governed entirely by statute, the obligation to the road rules is STATUTORY, not contractual.