DMV Revoked Her Vanity Plate. She's Fighting Back

Federal judge rules that Kari Lynn Overington's suit on 'FCANCER' plate may proceed
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 5, 2022 12:28 PM CDT
Updated Aug 7, 2022 4:25 PM CDT
Lawsuit Over 'FCANCER' Vanity Plate to Go Forward
Stock photo of a DMV.   (Getty Images/KatSnowden)

Kari Lynn Overington was in a celebratory mood when she hit the milestone of being cancer-free for two years, so she treated herself to a new car and a vanity plate that said "FCANCER," a defiant message to the breast cancer she'd beat. The DMV issued the plate but revoked it soon after, and now Overington, 41, is suing, saying she followed all rules for obtaining the plate and that denying her the car tag would deny her of her First Amendment rights. The AP reports that the Delaware woman applied for the license plate in December 2020, receiving it two months later. On her own website, Overington notes that she even went to the DMV in person the month before receiving the plate to hand over the required fee and to sign a document confirming that the "F" in "FCANCER" stood for "fight"—not the swear word that many people associate with the letter.

Then, in June 2021, Overington received a letter from the manager of the DMV offices in Dover noting that the plate "does not represent the division and the state in a positive manner" and that she needed to take it off her car. Overington then wrote to Nicole Majeski, the state's transportation secretary, to plead her case, noting that most people wouldn't see her plate as being profane or obscene. "My vanity plate receives positive feedback everywhere I go, and I have had more than a few deep conversations with complete strangers about my cancer and how cancer has touched their lives because of it," Overington wrote. She added that the DMV itself had put out tongue-in-cheek promos for safe driving on electronic road signs, including "Oh Cell No," and "Get Your Head Out of Your Apps."

Majeski wrote back and apologized for the plate being issued in the first place, but she stood firm on the recall, noting the DMV goes out of its way to rebuff requests for plates that contain "obscenity, vulgarity, profanity, hate speech, or fighting words." "Your vanity plate FCANCER contains a perceived profanity, the abbreviation for the word 'F(asterisk)@k,'" Majeski noted. After some more back-and-forth, Overington filed a civil complaint in federal state court against three Delaware officials, which state officials tried to dismiss—but on Monday, a federal judge ruled that Overington's case may proceed, noting that her suit raises a "significant constitutional issue." "I am ready for my day in court," Overington tells the AP. Read more on Law & Crime on whether vanity plates constitute government or individual speech, and on precedents that might influence this case. (More license plates stories.)

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