After achieving a victory in Marion County Court for Anthony Cummings, a homeless man who had been illegally assessed $824 in court costs and had his driver’s license suspended in three cases of “open lodging” under an Ocala ordinance, Southern Legal Counsel and the ACLU of Florida also brought about systemic change affecting more than 10,000 people in 29 counties.
Municipal ordinance violations are not criminal under Florida law, and driver’s license suspensions are only permitted for unpaid criminal financial obligations. So, not only were Cummings’ court costs reduced to $18 per violation and his license reinstated, but the Marion County Clerk of Court has rescinded 1,602 driver’s license suspensions resulting from unpaid court costs and will no longer impose more than $18 in costs per municipal ordinance violation or seek driver’s license suspensions in non-criminal cases or unpaid traffic citations.
The Clerk of Court also took ordinance violation cases out of collections, removing a 20% collections surcharge and alleviating the negative impacts on credit histories. As a result, 38 individuals charged with municipal ordinance violations now owe at least $11,685 less than they would have prior to the litigation.
The attorneys then met with the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), which provided statewide data showing license suspensions for nonpayment in local ordinance violation cases.
The DHSMV sent letters to Clerks of Court in 29 counties, notifying of their intention to reinstate driver’s licenses for more than 10,000 drivers. A copy of the Cummings order was attached to each letter as legal authority demonstrating the suspensions were unauthorized by law.
Additionally, the DHSMV has added the following note to their Uniform Traffic Code Manual: “The department has become aware that some of the notices submitted by certain clerks of court for failing to pay CFOs [criminal financial obligation] for criminal offenses were submitted for violations of municipal ordinances and county ordinances, which may lack sufficient legal authority to suspend a driver license. Clerks should ensure only lawful requests for DL action are submitted.”
To date, 22 counties have notified the DHSMV that they are in agreement with the reinstatement of the affected licenses. SLC estimates that about 12,768 suspensions have been lifted and 7,009 drivers have been affected as a result.
Meanwhile, SLC, the ACLU of Florida and pro bono attorney Andy Pozzuto are engaged in a federal class action lawsuit filed Sept. 19, 2019, against the city of Ocala on behalf of Cummings and two other named plaintiffs, Patrick McCardle and Courtney Ramsey, along with more than 200 other homeless persons who have been arrested for sleeping or resting on sidewalks and other outdoor areas. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of Ocala’s open lodging ordinance, which essentially criminalizes homelessness.