A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Los Angeles’ $63 expired parking meter fine is not excessive, but ordered a lower court to decide if a late-payment penalty in the same amount is going too far.
In a lawsuit brought six years ago in Los Angeles federal court, local residents Jesus Pimentel and David R. Welch challenged the city’s parking ordinance after both received a $63 fine while parked at meters downtown.
Both of their fines eventually ballooned to $175 after a $28 delinquent fee, a $21 collection fee and a doubling of the initial fine after two weeks of non-payment. When the Department of Motor Vehicles threatened to withhold registration, Pimentel and Welch paid their fines, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs allege that the fines they incurred are unconstitutional and a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits excessive fines.
A Los Angeles district judge subsequently tossed the lawsuit, setting the stage for the January appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena.
In the three-judge panel’s ruling Wednesday, Judge Kenneth K. Lee cited a 2016 Oscar-winning romcom.
“In the opening scene of `La La Land,’ drivers stuck in traffic spontaneously sing and dance on top of their cars and in the streets,” Lee wrote. “Hollywood, however, rarely resembles reality. 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.”
The panel held that the initial fine of $63 did not violate the Excessive Fines Clause because it was not grossly disproportionate to the offense of overstaying time at a metered parking space. The panel reversed, however, the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the city as to the late-payment penalty of $63.
The appellate panel found that based on the case record, it did not know the city’s justification for setting the late fee at 100% of the initial fine.
The case was sent back to the district court to determine whether the city’s late fee runs afoul of the clause.
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