Thursday, July 23, 2020
City’s Overtime Parking Penalties Subject to Excessive Fines Clause
Judge Lee Says $63 Ticket Issued by City of Los Angeles Is Not Disproportionate to Offense But Additional $63 Fine for Not Making Prompt Payment Might Be; Case Remanded
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Parking fines and late fees imposed by a city may not be “grossly disproportionate” to the offense and are subject to a constitutional analysis previously limited to criminal forfeiture and federal civil cases, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held yesterday in a case brought against the City of Los Angeles.
A $63 fine for overtime parking does not violate the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eight Amendment, Circuit Judge Kenneth K. Lee wrote, but an additional fine in the same amount for not paying within 21 days, might, he said, remanding the matter for the District Court of the Central District of California for a determination as to the reasonableness of the late-fee.
The opinion thus affirms, in part, and reverses, in part, a summary judgment granted to the city by Judge Fernando M. Olguin.
“This right to be free from excessive governmental fines is not a relic relegated to the period of parchments and parliaments, but rather it remains a crucial bulwark against government abuse,” Lee wrote.
He was joined by Judge Paul J. Watford. Judge Mark J. Bennett wrote a separate concurring opinion, saying he agrees with the outcome because the City of Los Angeles did not contest the applicability of the Excessive Fines Clause to parking tickets, but commented that he does believe that clause should be routinely applied to such matters.
The decision arises from an action brought by Jesus Pimentel and others under 42 USC §1983, a federal civil rights statute, alleging a government policy in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Agreement With City
Lee agreed with the city that the initial fine does not violate the Excessive Fines Clause, applying a four-factor analysis set forth in the Supreme Court’s 1998 decision in U.S. v. Bajakajian.
Those factors are, he recited, “(1) the nature and extent of the underlying offense; (2) whether the underlying offense related to other illegal activities; (3) whether other penalties may be imposed for the offense; and (4) the extent of the harm caused by the offense.”
While district courts in the Ninth Circuit have previously applied Bajakajian only in criminal forfeiture cases, Lee declared that the 2019 Supreme Court decision in Timbs v. Indiana provides “the final link in the chain connecting the Eight Amendment to municipal fines.”
In Timbs, the Supreme Court extended the Excessive Fines Clause to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
“We hold that the Timbs decision affirmatively opens the door for Eight Amendment challenges to fines imposed by state and local authorities,” Lee wrote.
Lee said that, based on the first and fourth factors, the city’s initial $63 fine does not violate the Excessive Fines Clause. He remarked that parking violations are a “minimal but not de minimis” offense.
As for the harm caused, Lee said that courts may consider “how the violation erodes the government’s purposes for proscribing the conduct.” In this case, Lee wrote, “there is no real dispute that the City is harmed because overstaying parking meters leads to increased congestion and impeded traffic flow.”
Since neither Olguin or the city applied the same analysis to the $63 late fee, Lee said, its constitutionality remains in question.
“Based on the record, we do not know the City’s justification for setting the late fee at one hundred percent of the initial fine,” Lee wrote, explaining the remand.
In his concurring opinion, Bennett said:
“[W]e all know that many municipalities rent out parking or otherwise charge for use of their property (including assessing holdover and late fees). I simply do not believe that every time a city or town does so, it should be subject to a § 1983 action. Even looking only at parking spaces, the potential for federal court litigation is endless. I see Los Angeles’s charges, including its holdover and late fees, as routine. The Congress, in enacting the Civil Rights Acts following the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, certainly did not intend for those noble statutes to redress the types of ‘rights’ asserted here.”
The case is Pimentel v. City of Los Angeles, 18-56553.
Los Angeles attorneys Donald G. Norris of Donald G. Norris ALC and Donald R. Pepperman of Baker Marquart LLP represented the plaintiffs. Deputy City Attorneys Gerald M. Sato and Arlene N. Hoang acted for the city.
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