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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Houston Must Face Suit Over Fined Driver Issue

HOUSTON (CN) - Motorists convicted of failure to display a valid driver's license can pursue claims that they were subjected to an illegal surcharge, a federal judge ruled.

Bertha Fontenot brought the class action against Houston, Texas, just over a year ago, on behalf of the similarly situated penalized drivers.

She said the city incorrectly labeled thousands of convictions in its reports to the Texas Department of Public Safety and led the state to believe that the individuals were found guilty of more serious traffic violations than failure to display a license. Relying on that information, the state demanded that Fontenot and others pay up to $300 for surcharges that did not apply to their offense, according to the complaint. Maximus Inc., the company that provided the integrated case management system, or ICMS, employed by Houston's municipal courts at the time, was also named as a defendant to Fontenot's suit. Houston claimed that the system automatically transmitted the faulty information to the Department of Public Safety.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt refused Thursday to dismiss the claims against the city.

Contrary to the city's argument, Hoyt found that Fontenot has standing to seek injunctive relief against Houston.

"Not only do the plaintiffs' pleadings establish a personal stake in the case, they establish unconstitutional conduct on the part of the city, due to the application of its 'official policy' - a policy that subjected the plaintiffs to penalties beyond those called for by the applicable statutes," Hoyt wrote. "Moreover, the fact that the plaintiffs' conviction records remain in an erroneous state, subjects the plaintiffs to more severe penalties, including jail confinement, for any future convictions."

He added: "Hence, some affirmative action(s) beyond merely redesigning its ICMS is required on the part of the city."

David Miller and Santa Zamarron are also named as plaintiffs in the second amended complaint. Additional defendants include Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw; Deputy Director for the City of Houston Municipal Courts Charlotte Booker; Gila LLC dba Municipal Services Bureau; and Gila Manager Bruce Cummings.

The false reporting allegedly took place for over six years.

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