The D.C. Department of For-Hire Vehicles (DFHV) regulates vehicles for hire like limousines and taxicabs to ensure compliance with standards governing cleanliness, vehicle maintenance, and appropriate licensing and documentation. The Department employs vehicle inspection officers or “hack inspectors” to enforce these policies by subjecting drivers to vehicle checks. The Department’s regulations and policies, however, permit hack inspectors and D.C. police officers to detain vehicles and conduct vehicle checks without important limitations such as a warrant outlining the scope of the search, a requirement of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing by the driver, or a reasonable limit on how long the stop may take. Instead, a hack inspector or D.C. police officer can conduct a vehicle check for any reason or no reason, entirely at the officer’s discretion. After hearing reports of suspicionless stops, we investigated further and learned that many drivers stopped by hack inspectors felt that they had been racially profiled.
In March 2015, Ms. Yolande Payne-Jones, a driver subjected to the Department’s inspection regime, stopped her limousine outside of a restaurant while waiting for her passenger. A hack inspector detained her without suspicion of wrongdoing and decided to conduct an inspection, which resulted in the issuance of multiple citations totaling over $2,000. Ms. Payne-Jones and her company, Diamond Limousines, challenged the citations administratively, but they were upheld.
Representing Ms. Payne-Jones and Diamond on appeal, we filed our opening a brief to the D.C. Court of Appeals in July 2017. We argued that the Department’s suspicionless-stop policy runs afoul of the Fourth Amendment because it does not establish sufficient limitations on the hack inspector’s discretion. Instead of giving free rein to the hack inspectors to stop drivers of for-hire vehicles, our brief argued, the policies could be changed to put in place constitutionally viable limitations. For instance, the Department could require more frequent inspections or mandate that a sticker be displayed indicating the last date of inspection.
Rather than respond to our brief on the merits, the government moved to have its infractions dismissed. In January 2018, the Court granted that motion.