ACLU files lawsuit against DMV over revoking driver’s ‘FKGAS’ vanity plate

The owner of a creative vanity plate that the DMV is looking to recall for being 'offensive' is fighting back. He's filing a lawsuit with the local branch of the ACLU.
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The owner of a creative vanity plate that the DMV is looking to recall for being ‘offensive’ is fighting back. He’s filing a lawsuit with the local branch of the ACLU.

The Rhode Island DMV first notified the driver, identified as Sean Carroll in the lawsuit, last month that he would need to send back his license plate which reads ‘FKGAS’ or it would be revoked by March 13.

Now the Tesla driver is seeking a temporary restraining order to keep the DMV from revoking the plate and suspending his registration while the lawsuit is pending.

Freedom of speech is at the heart of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU Thursday. The driver claims the DMV is violating his constitutional rights by revoking the plate.

“Because the state has let him do this, they can’t now decide that his form of doing it is somehow inappropriate or offensive,” said Cooperating Attorney for the Rhode Island ACLU Thomas Lyons.

Driver Sean Carroll says he chose the plate after putting solar panels on his home which he told his young daughter would power his electronic car.

“And his daughter who is eight said, ‘Oh so it’s like fake gas,” explained Lyons. “He recognized at the same time that F-K could stand for, or viewed as, an abbreviation for the F-word plus gas.”

According to the suit, the director of the DMV can deny vanity plates that carry a connotation that is contrary to ‘good taste or decency,’ but they don’t define what that means.

“Simply because it’s ‘scandalous’ or ‘immoral’ is not a grounds upon which you can deny someone the right to freedom of speech,” said Lyons.

Adding to the subjectivity of the process, the ACLU found that the DMV has routinely issued vanity plates that have the letters ‘F-U’ or ‘F-K.’ They’ve also banned the word drunk but not tipsy, and chubby but not fatty.

“We can’t discern how they made a decision for what can be on a license plate or what can’t be,” said Lyons. “Mr. Carroll is trying to make a political statement and something he believes in.”

When they first revoked the plate last month, the DMV originally told ABC6 that it had gotten by their computers and a new employee, and should have never made it on the road.

But according to the driver, he was originally issued commercial plates accidentally and had to apply for passenger plates in person, where it got approved.

The DMV declined to comment.

©WLNE-TV/ABC 6 2020

Categories: News, Rhode Island