Monday, January 23, 2017
Ninth Circuit Rejects Yagman Challenge to L.A.’s Parking Citation Process
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The City of Los Angeles does not violate the constitutional rights of alleged parking violators by requiring that they deposit the fine amounts before obtaining an administrative hearing, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
The panel affirmed a ruling by U.S. District Judge George H. King of the Central District of California, who has since retired, in favor of city officials who were sued by disbarred civil rights lawyer Stephen Yagman.
Each local jurisdiction in California processes parking citations in accordance with Vehicle Code §40215. The statute gives the vehicle owner the right to an initial review by the issuing agency, and if that review does not result in cancellation of the ticket, to an administrative hearing.
Prior to such a hearing, however, the contestant must either deposit the amount of the citation penalty or prove an inability to pay. If the hearing officer rules against the contestant, de novo review is available in superior court.
Yagman, who was suspended from practice in 2007 and disbarred in 2010, based on his convictions for tax evasion, bankruptcy fraud, and money laundering, alleged that the city’s implementation of §40215 violated substantive and procedural due process.
But U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary of the Northern District of Ohio, sitting by designation on the Ninth Circuit, said the city had significant interests that support the deposit requirement and that outweigh the imposition on the vehicle owner.
Zouhary cited Mathews v. Eldridge (1979) 424 U.S. 319, which sets forth a three-part balancing test for determining whether the government must offer a pre-deprivation hearing to a citizen facing the loss of his property. The test balances the private and public interests at stake, with consideration of the harm to the citizen if the taking is erroneous.
In this case, the judge said, the harm to the property owner is modest, because the taking is temporary, the city’s procedures provide for prompt return of the money if the car owner wins in the administrative hearing or in court, and the deposit requirement is waived if the person cannot afford to pay.
The initial-review process, Zouhary added, makes it relatively unlikely that an innocent person will have to pay the deposit. Yagman, he said, had adequate opportunities to present exculpatory evidence and arguments during the initial review.
He rejected Yagman’s argument that the initial review is “perfunctory, illusory, meaningless, and …results invariably in 75% of all cases in a deprivation of property.” Zouhary agreed with the district judge that the fact that 25 percent of those who challenge tickets prevail on initial review proves that it “catches many mistakes and protects against arbitrariness.”
While some mistakes will inevitably be made at that level, the Due Process Clause does not require perfection, the judge said.
The city, on the other hand, showed that its interests in collecting a deposit prior to a hearing is substantial, Zouhary concluded.
“One such interest is in discouraging dilatory challenges….” he wrote. “Requiring the City to provide formal administrative hearings without collecting deposits would encourage contestants to request hearings simply to delay paying the penalties….The City has an interest in promptly collecting parking penalties….Also, requiring a deposit before providing a formal hearing ensures the penalty will be collected following unsuccessful challenges….By ensuring prompt payment for unsuccessful challenges, the City is spared the cost of further collection efforts. Lastly, the City has an interest in conserving ‘scarce administrative resources.’”
Since the city’s procedures are not fundamentally unfair, the judge went on to say, there is no substantive due process violation. Yagman’s remaining causes of action, for malicious prosecution, conspiracy, municipal civil rights liability, and racketeering, are without substance, Zouhary wrote.
Yagman argued his own case in the Ninth Circuit, while Deputy City Attorney Gerald M. Sato argued on behalf of the defendants.
The case is Yagman v. Garcetti, 14-56223.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company