(Spoiler Alert: This blog has absolutely nothing to do with mediation other than the fact this case should have never gone this far and should have been settled at mediation.)
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Eighth Amendment to U. S. Constitution
“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State… subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States… within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress,….” 42 U.S.C. §1983
It is a well-known fact that traffic is horrible in Los Angeles (L.A.). As the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals explained in Pimentel v City of Los Angeles, Case No. 18-56553 (Filed July 22,2020):
On any given day, Los Angelenos sigh and despair when mired in traffic jams. One small way the City of Los Angeles tries to alleviate traffic congestion is to impose time restrictions — and fines — for limited public parking spaces. If a person parks her car past the allotted time limit and forces people to drive around in search of other parking spaces, she must pay a $63 fine. And if she fails to pay the fine within 21 days, the City will impose a late-payment penalty of $63. Appellants, who had parking fines and late fees levied. (Id. at 4.)
This is a case about a $63 parking ticket, or double that if not paid timely. Appellants- Jesus Pimentel et al overstayed the allotted time in a parking space and so received a parking ticket. When they did not pay it, late fees were assessed. So, they sued the City of Los Angeles challenging the parking ordinance as violating the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution as imposing an Excessive Fine and as violating their civil rights under 42 U.S.§ 1983.
The trial court sitting in downtown Los Angeles (where congestion and traffic can be really bad) granted summary judgment to the City of Los Angeles finding that the initial parking fine of $63 was not “grossly disproportionate to the offense…” (Id. at 4.) The trial court also ruled in favor of the City regarding the late fee of an additional $63.00 finding it, too, did not amount to an Excessive Fine. (Id.)
The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part agreeing that the penalty itself did not amount to an “Excessive Fine” but reversed as to the 100% penalty of the additional $63 (because the City had not really explained the rationale or its authority for imposing such an amount (Id. at 15.) and so remanded this part of the case back to the district court for further proceedings.
It seems that in 2019, the U. S. Supreme Court held in Timbs v Indiana, 139 S. Ct. 682, 687 that the Excessive Fines Clause in the Eighth Amendment applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, the Ninth Circuit was obliged to apply the four factors in United States v. Bajakajian, 524 U.S. 321, 336–37 (1998):
To determine whether a fine is grossly disproportional to the underlying offense, four factors are considered: (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. (Id. at 7.)
Applying the first factor, the court found “…that the nature and extent of appellants’ violations to be minimal but not de minimis.” (Id. at 11.)
The court found that the second and third factors were not really applicable or helpful to its analysis. (Id.)
The Court found that there was harm, not only in terms of money, but “…that the City is harmed because overstaying parking meters leads to increased congestion and impedes traffic flow.” (Id. at 12.)
Consequently, upon applying this four-factor test, the Court held “…that the City’s initial parking fine of $63 is not grossly disproportional to the underlying offense of overstaying the time at a parking space. We affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the City of Los Angeles on this issue” (Id. at 14.)
But, as noted above, the Court remanded the issue of the late payment penalty finding that the City had not really explained its authority to impose a 100% penalty. (Id. at 15.)
A concurrence, filed by Circuit Judge Bennett, makes the most sense of all:
Because the City of Los Angeles conceded that the Excessive Fines Clause applied to parking “fines,” I concur in the judgment. I write separately because I do not believe the Excessive Fines Clause should routinely apply to parking meter violations. (Id. at 16.)
And as one might surmise, Circuit Judge Bennett also opined that the Civil Rights Act should not apply here as well:
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. See Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 684 (1978) (quoting approvingly the characterization of the purpose of § 1983 as “in aid of the preservation of human liberty and human rights”). And neither, I think, did the authors of the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments. I believe applying the Excessive Fines Clause to the types of charges at issue, improperly trivializes the Eighth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Civil Rights Acts. But, because Los Angeles did not contest this issue either below or on appeal, I concur in the judgment (Id. at 21.)
So, as we all worry about the pandemic and take every precaution possible to avoid becoming ill, we can take some comfort in the fact, that if and when we are back to driving around in L.A. and violate a parking sign or meter, our paying the fine of $63 will neither constitute an excessive fine nor violate our civil rights.
…. Just something to think about.
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