• U.S. District Court of Delaware
  • D66428

U.S. DISTRICT COURT OF DELAWARE

Burr v. Biden, DeFAX Case No. D66428 (D. Del. Aug. 1, 2014) (memorandum) Sleet, J. (12 pages).

Plaintiff seeking constitutional protection from wearing seat belts failed to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(6)(b). Defendant's motion to dismiss granted.

Plaintiff was stopped by New Castle County police and ticketed for failure to wear his seat belt, a violation of 21 Del.C. § 4802(a)(1). The violation carried no criminal penalty, just a civil fine. This was plaintiff's second violation. Plaintiff "did not like wearing seat belts."

Plaintiff was required to pay the $68 fine within one month of the violation's issuance. In lieu of payment, plaintiff removed the case to the district court, citing that the seat belt statute violated his civil rights and his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and, thus, was unconstitutional.

Plaintiff filed an amended petition, naming the Sheriff of New Castle County and the Attorney General of Delaware as defendants. The complaint alleged violations of plaintiff's Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and specifically, plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights as established in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision of Lawrence v. Texas. Plaintiff asserted that Lawrence stood for the premise that all fundamental rights were subject to strict scrutiny and that the Lawrence court's language that "other spheres … outside of the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence" should apply to the seatbelt statute. Defendants moved to dismiss.

The Sheriff of New Castle County moved to dismiss as he was an improper party to the suit. The Sheriff's Office, defendant noted, was not a law enforcement agency, and was thus not responsible for executing and administering the seat belt law. In addition, defendant had never personally enforced any traffic laws. Plaintiff did not contest defendant's motion to dismiss his §1983 suit.

Defendant Attorney General moved to dismiss plaintiff's claims, contending that plaintiff failed to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and that plaintiff's application of the strict scrutiny test and his reliance on Lawrence v. Texas was "misplaced." Lawrence, defendant argued, did not establish application of the strict scrutiny test to a vague right of privacy. In addition, the statute in dispute in Lawrence failed to further a legitimate public interest. The seat belt statute, defendant contended, furthered multiple legitimate public interests, and would thus be subject to the less strict rational basis test. Passage of the seat belt statute was in response to the Federal Highway Safety Act and had no bearing on the statute's constitutional validity.

The court agreed with defendant Attorney General, noting that Lawrence did not establish a general right of privacy, nor did the Supreme Court identify that particular right of privacy as a fundamental right. The standard of strict scrutiny would only apply where a fundamental right was involved. Lawrence, the court pointed out, only determined that the statute in question did not further a legitimate state interest that would justify such an intrusion into the individual's private life. There were multiple legitimate public interests in enforcing the seat belt statute, including improved highway safety, reducing accidental deaths and reducing health care costs affiliated with said accidents. Therefore, there was a rational basis for the statute. Defendant's motion to dismiss granted.

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