Court finds that lawsuit against NC driver license system can move forward

Photo of hands on a car steering wheel.
North Carolina ADA case against DMV goes ahead

A federal court judge refused the state of North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicle’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the state’s drivers license registration system violates with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Disability Rights North Carolina filed the lawsuit in February 2014, on behalf of seven current license holders. It accuses the state of subjecting drivers with disabilities to unnecessary road testing and medical exams.

State law requires that drivers seeking to obtain or renew a drivers license undergo a second examination when there is “good and sufficient cause to believe that a licensed driver is incompetent or otherwise not qualified to be licensed.”

However, an exception applies for drivers with “apparent physical disabilities” or who use hand controls and other vehicle modifications, who must automatically be reexamined, submit additional documentation, and, in some cases, go through “behind-the-wheel assessments” with occupational therapists.

“What might be an indicator that they have a disability is that they walk into a DMV office with a cane,” Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights NC, told WUNC 91.5. “That in and of itself would trigger this more in-depth review, not the fact that they were involved in an accident or they were driving unsafely. It’s arbitrary.

“We have examples of situations where driving aids or restrictions were added that didn’t seem at all connected with the medical review.”

The state DMV petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to dismiss the case on on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not meet the threshold “essential eligibility requirements,” for a drivers license, and thus could not state a claim under the ADA.

In a concise eight-page opinion, the Court rejected this argument.

“It is clear that, here, plaintiffs are qualified individuals. Each individual plaintiff holds a valid driver’s license which means that each individual plaintiff is a qualified individual for the purposes of the driver’s licensing program,” the Court stated.

In addition, the state DMV sought to have the case dismissed on a variety of procedural grounds, including the individual plaintiff’s standing to bring the lawsuit, Disability Rights North Carolina’s standing, and the the adequacy of the complaint. The Court rejected these arguments as well.

“Today’s decision means that drivers with disabilities will get their day in court,” Smith said in a Disability Rights North Carolina news release. “Through this case, we expect to shine a light on a system that operates on outdated notions that people with disabilities don’t drive and work and participate in their communities.”

Disability Rights North Carolina is the federally funded protection and advocacy system in North Carolina, and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.