DiFrancesco v. Bullock

Every year Montana suspends the licenses of an estimated 10,000 Montana residents because they are unable to pay court debts, even though many are simply too poor to pay. Montana does not take the driver’s ability to pay into consideration before suspension, nor does it offer a community service option or a reasonable payment plan.

Montana has virtually no public transportation options, so the loss of a driver’s license in the state is particularly devastating. Unable to drive, people often lose their jobs or have a hard time finding employment, making it even more unlikely that they will be able to pay their debts to the state. This system traps people who are poor in an impossible cycle of poverty, and it’s bad public policy.


Almost every week, I have a heartbreaking conversation with a client who is doing everything he or she can to be a lawabiding, working member of the community, but the government has punished he or she in a way that makes that impossible. This is especially true for all but a handful of Montanans who don’t have chauffeurs or affordable and reliable public transit nearby that can get them to where they need to be in order to live, work, and comply with a court’s orders.
— Buddy Rutzke, Montana Public Defender

Michael DiFrancesco is a 22-year old who has never been charged with a moving traffic violation or any violation related to road safety, and yet, Montana prevents him from having a license. Why? Because he was too poor to pay a fine from a single civil infraction of possessing alcohol when he was underage. His court debts have now ballooned to over $4,000.

Without a license, it’s difficult for Michael to travel to his job as a construction worker, so he has experienced intermittent unemployment as well as periods of homelessness.

This lawsuit is the first step toward ending this discriminatory system.


case details

The Complaint

Status: Active

Date Filed: 08/31/17

Plaintiffs: Michael DiFrancesco, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated

Defendants: Steve Bullock, in his official capacity as Governor of Montana; Tim Fox as Attorney General of Montana; Sarah Garcia as Administrator of the Motor Vehicles Division; and Michele Snowberger, in her capacity as Bureau Chief of the Driver Services Bureau

Jurisdiction: The U.S. District Court for the District of Montana Butte Division

Partners: Robert Farris-Olsen and Scott Peterson ofMorrison, Sherwood, Wilson & Deola, PLLP



November 7, 2017: Equal Justice Under Law filed a response to the State’s Motion to Dismiss