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Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center v. Norman

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

August 2, 2019

INTERCOMMUNITY JUSTICE AND PEACE CENTER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CHARLES L. NORMAN, REGISTRAR, OHIO BUREAU OF MOTOR VEHICLES, in his official capacity, Defendant.

          Kimberly A. Jolson Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          EDMUND A. SARGUS, JR. CHIEF JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted filed by Defendant Charles L. Norman, Registrar ("Registrar") of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles ("BMV") (ECF No. 25), Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition (ECF No. 29), and Defendant's Reply (ECF No. 30). For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion.

         I.

         In this action, a putative class of 16- and 17-year old Ohio residents, most of whom were born in the United States and are citizens, allege that a policy of the BMV Registrar denies them drivers' licenses and/or state identification cards based upon the immigration status of their parents. Plaintiffs' posit:

Obtaining a temporary instruction permit at age 15 and then a driver's license at age 16 is a familiar rite of passage for teenagers across Ohio. It is also a step to gaining independence, supporting oneself and assisting one's family financially, and attending school and extracurricular activities. However, thousands of non-citizen and U.S.-citizen minors across Ohio who are otherwise eligible to obtain these licenses are unable to do so because of the national origin and immigration status of their parents.
The BMV has enacted a discriminatory policy that requires a parent or guardian to prove lawful immigration status in order to co-sign for the minor child if the parent is not a U.S. citizen. When a parent or legal guardian cannot provide such documentation, BMV policy prohibits any other adult from serving as a cosigner. This policy denies or delays the issuance of driver's licenses and identification cards to otherwise-eligible individuals solely on the basis of a minor's parents' alienage and national origin and, consequently, violates those minors" right to equal protection of the laws. Plaintiffs and putative class members seek injunctive and declaratory relief against Defendant and the cessation of this discriminatory policy.

(Pis' Mem. in Opp. at 1-2, ECF No. 29.)

         Plaintiffs assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         A. Relevant Statutes, Regulations, and Policies

         Section 4507 of the Ohio Revised Code establishes the requirements for the issuance of driver's licenses to Ohio residents. Ohio requires a driver's license applicant to be eighteen years of age or older, except that a person who is at least sixteen years of age and has held a temporary instruction permit identification card for a period of at least six months may apply for and receive a probationary license. Ohio Rev. Code § 4507.071(A). Pursuant to BMV regulations, all applicants for a license or a temporary permit must present documents sufficient to show five elements: the person's "(1) Full legal name; (2) Date of birth; (3) Social security number; (4) Street address of the person's principal residence in the state of Ohio; and (5) Status as a citizen, permanent resident, or temporary resident of the United States." Ohio Adm. Code § 4501-1-1-21(C). These are the same five requirements of the REAL ID Act, a federal statute that sets minimum standards for state driver's licenses and identification cards to be accepted for official purposes.[1] Pub. L. No. 109-13 § 202(c)(2)(B); 119 Stat. 313; (49 U.S.C. § 30301 codified as note); 6 C.F.R. § 37.11.

         To show the fifth element, commonly referred to by the BMV as "legal presence," applicants must establish legal presence in the United States by submitting "original and valid" United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") documents "showing the dates of legal presence." Ohio Adm. Code § 4501:1-1-21 (G)(6). The acceptable identification documents required by the Ohio Administrative Code are the same for a temporary instruction permit as for a driver's license. See Id. § 4501:1 -1 -21 (A).

         The issue at the heart of this lawsuit is embodied in § 4507.07(A) of the Ohio Revised Code, which provides that for any minor under eighteen years of age to receive a probationary license, the minor's application must be "signed by one of the minor's parents, the minor's guardian, another person having custody of the applicant, or, if there is no parent or guardian, a responsible person who is willing to assume the obligation imposed under this section." Ohio Rev. Code § 4507.07(A). The co-signer "shall present identification establishing that the adult is the individual whose signature appears on the application." Id. The Revised Code further provides that "the [BMV] registrar shall prescribe, by rule, the types of identification that are suitable for" this purpose. Id. Co-signers are required by regulation to present this identification when co-signing an application for either a temporary instruction permit or a driver's license. See Ohio Adm. Code § 4501:M-19(C).

         The Revised Code and the Administrative Code are silent on the question of what documents a co-signer (as opposed to an applicant) must present to the Deputy Registrar in order to "establish[] that the adult is the individual whose signature appears on the application." Ohio Rev. Code § 4507.07(A). The BMV Driver Manual has implemented a policy in this regard, requiring that a co-signer "present proof of identity by presenting an Ohio credential or proof of the five elements. If the co-signer is not an Ohio resident, an out-of-state credential and proof of SSN is acceptable as proof of identity." Driver Manual (Rev. 11/6/2018), ECF No. 23-2, PageID 267. The five elements from the Ohio Administrative Code and the REAL ID Act are set forth above, the fifth of which is the "legal presence" element. Ohio Adm. Code § 4501-1-1-21(C).

         The Revised Code and Administrative Code are also silent on the question of when Deputy Registrars may consider there to be "no parent or guardian," and thus allow another "responsible person" to co-sign. Ohio Rev. Code § 4507.07(A). The BMV has interpreted the policy to allow only a parent or legal guardian to be the co-signer unless the minor is emancipated. Driver Manual, ECF No. 23-2, PageID 268 ("A co-signer must be asked if he or she is a legal parent or guardian of the applicant but is not required to provide documentation proving the relationship or guardianship.").

         Ohio Revised Code §§ 4507.50 and 4507.51 govern the issuance of state identification cards. An identification card is not valid for the purpose of operating a motor vehicle, and there is no age requirement to obtain one. Id. at § 4507.52(A). The Revised Code requires that, like a temporary instruction permit or a driver's license application, a minor applicant for an identification card have a co-signer. Id. § 4507.51(A)(1). See also Driver Manual, Doc. 23-2, PageID 267 ("Co-signer Requirements for all types of Ohio Credentials"). Plaintiffs aver that, "[a]lthough the BMV policy regarding required USCIS documents for non-citizen co-signers is laid out only in the Drivers Manual, in a letter to Plaintiffs' counsel dated October 2, 2017, Defendant stated: 'the BMV applies the same identification requirements to Ohio driver's licenses, commercial driver's licenses, temporary instruction permits, and state identification (ID) cards....'" (Am. Compl. ¶ 45, Ex. 3.) Defendant agrees that the BMV policy requires the same identification to obtain a state identification card as is required to obtain a driver's permit. Therefore, the BMV co-signer policy applies to minors who apply for state identification cards and to those who apply for driver's licenses.

         Defendant has stipulated that if the allegations in the Amended Complaint are true, under current BMV policy minor Plaintiffs K.I.A., A.M., and J.G.R. all meet the BMV's "legal presence" requirement. (Statement of Stipulated Facts, ECF No. 23 ¶ 12.) With that stipulation, the parties agree that each minor Plaintiffs only obstacle to obtaining a temporary instruction permit, driver's license, or state identification card is an inability to obtain a policy-eligible cosigner.

         B. Relevant Facts

         Plaintiffs include: 1) K.I.A., A.M., and J.G.R., who are Ohio residents who by virtue of their ages (16 and 17) are eligible to apply for a temporary permit identification card and, after satisfying driver's education requirements and passing a driving test, a driver's license; 2) the three sole custodial parents of each of the three minors, who by virtue of their immigration status, cannot co-sign for their children's driver's license applications; and 3) organizational plaintiff Intercommunity Justice And Peace Center ("UPC"), a Cincinnati-based nonprofit organization with a mission of promoting immigrant rights, developing leadership ability in its members (who include immigrant youth and the U.S.-citizen children of immigrants), and counteracting discrimination against its members. Am. Compl., ¶¶ 6-16, ECF No. 11.

         1. Plaintiff A.M.

         A.M. is a seventeen-year-old U.S. citizen and resident of Toledo. Id. at ¶ 61. He lives with his mother and sole custodial parent, Maria Monjaraz, who is a citizen of Mexico. Id. at ¶¶ 61-62. In April 2017, when he was fifteen-and-a-half years old, A.M. applied for an Ohio temporary instruction permit identification card at a BMV Deputy Registrar in Oregon, Ohio. Id. at ¶ 63. A.M.'s mother, Ms. Monjaraz, accompanied him to serve as his co-signer and presented a valid Mexican consular identification card to the Deputy Registrar staff as proof of her identity. Id. at ¶¶ 64-65. BMV Deputy Registrar staff denied A.M.'s application for a temporary instruction permit because Ms. Monjaraz did not have a valid Ohio identification card or USCIS documents showing lawful immigration status, which she does not possess. Id. at ¶ 68.

         Jacquelin Ocampo, a U.S.-citizen friend of Ms. Monjaraz, also accompanied the family to the Deputy Registrar to attempt to serve as a co-signer, but Deputy Registrar staff refused to allow her to co-sign because she is not A.M.'s parent or legal guardian. Id. at ¶ 69.

         2. Plaintiff K.I. A.

         K.I.A. is a sixteen-year-old U.S. citizen and resident of Cincinnati and a member of Plaintiff UPC and its Youth Educating Society ("YES") program. Id. at ¶¶ 70, 79. She lives with her mother and sole custodial parent, Maria Cabrera, a citizen of Mexico. Id. at ¶¶ 70-71. Before K.I.A. was eligible for a temporary permit, Ms. Cabrera had encountered the BMV's cosigner policy because KJA.'s older sister, Esther, who is now 18 years old and has been a U.S. citizen since birth, tried to obtain a temporary permit at the Deputy Registrar in Sharonville, Ohio. Id. at ¶¶ 71-72. When Esther and Ms. Cabrera went to the Deputy Registrar so that Esther could apply for a temporary permit, Ms. Cabrera presented a valid Mexican passport and valid Mexican consular identity card, but the Deputy Registrar rejected the documents. Id. at ¶ 74. Ms. Cabrera could not present a valid Ohio driver's license or USCIS documents because she lacks lawful immigration status. Id. Accordingly, she never attempted to take K.I.A. to a Deputy Registrar to apply for a temporary permit because she knew that pursuant to BMV policy K.I.A. could not obtain a temporary permit or a license while she was a minor. Id. at ¶ 78.

         3. ...


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