$63 Parking Fine Doesn't Violate Excessive Fines Clause

So holds the Ninth Circuit.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The case is Pimentel v. City of Los Angeles, in an opinion written by Judge Kenneth Lee and joined by Judge Paul Watford:

To determine whether a fine is grossly disproportional to the underlying offense [and thus unconstitutionally excessive], 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.

[Detailed analysis of the factors omitted, but the heart of the court's reasoning, I think, is this: -EV] [The $63 fine] bears "some relationship" to the gravity of the offense. While a parking violation is not a serious offense, the fine is not so large, either, and likely deters violations.

Sounds right to me.

The court remanded to the trial court to apply the Excessive Fines Clause test (such as it is) to the $63 late fee—the trial court hadn't done that, and "in its brief to this court, the City of Los Angeles did not even bother addressing the constitutionality of its late fee." But the Ninth Circuit's logic suggests that the late fee would likewise not be unconstitutional.

Judge Mark Bennett concurred in the judgment, but concluded that the city was acting in its capacity as property owner in imposing fees for parking, including for overtime parking, and that such proprietary rules shouldn't generally be subject to Excessive Fines Clause analysis.

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  1. I didn’t get the Bennett concurrence. If we’re going to view these “fees” through the prism of the-government-as-property-owning-business, then the government’s power to collect the fees should be limited to the powers granted to any other business. So no license suspensions or other collection processes not available to a private person who owns a garage. If the government is going to grant itself special collection privileges (and my understanding is that almost all do), it is not merely acting as a property owner.

    1. He’s an idiot Clinton appointee.

      1. Guess again.

    1. Sorry, forgot to include it in the initial post — just added it, thanks!

  2. According to the docket looks like the guy was out $400 in filing fees plus service and had an a few attorneys representing him. Guess he had a beef with the city.

  3. Jeeze. $63 and this guy made a federal case of it? I just got a $75 ticket and I’ll pay up if the Admin Judge rejects my appeal (which he shouldn’t because the sign was turned backwards!).

  4. I find a $63.00 parking fine to be abusive. Given some of the comments, he was able to appeal and hire counsel, it probably won’t seriously injure him, if at all. The question of cruel and unusual should, especially in the case of civil fines, place a strict burden on the sovereign to indicate that its motive is social and corrective and not enrichment. Turn the burden of proof or at least the initial burden of persuasion. It is disgusting that in civil forfeiture cases people have to basically come forward and prove a negative. Its basically impossible. I have an LL.M in Admiralty and am familiar with this type of burden. It never became an issue in my mind until the day that sitting at a cafe I saw a homeless man issued a $75.00 citation for Jay Walking. I never learned his fate, but the expression on his fate showed defeat. That was cruel and unusual.

    1. If you read his initial complaint he does make the case that a $63 fine for overstaying a parking meter is equivalent to an 8 hour work day at minimum wage after taxes. That is one way to think about it.

    2. You do realize this lawsuit wasn’t challenging the punishment as cruel and unusual, right?

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