Court References Magna Carta in Parking Ticket Appeal

by | July 30, 2020

Pimentel v. City of Los Angeles, 2020 WL 4197744 (9th Cir. 2020)

“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. Hollywood, however, rarely resembles reality. On any given day, Los Angelenos sigh and despair when mired in traffic jams.” So begins the saga of Jesus Pimentel and his pursuit of justice all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Will the case be appealed to the Supreme Court? It could happen. However, a time-honored maxim of the law, de minimis non curat lex, might mean the end of the line for the parking ticket litigation. For those who didn’t have Latin forced upon them in highbrow parochial schools, de minimis non curat lex is a fancy way of saying the law doesn’t care about trifles. Until it does.

The court ruled that the City has the right to set fines for violations of its temporary “lease” of City parking spaces, much like King John had the right to punish those who poached deer from Sherwood Forest.

The Court of Appeals heralded an ancient English tome, no less than the Magna Carta, for the proposition that a “Free-man shall not be amerced (fined) for a small fault.” Way back in June 1215, when the barons forced King John to agree to the Great Charter at Runnymede, parking problems and the King’s highway were not on their list of grievances. Eight hundred and five years later, parking problems are indeed very much among the grievances of city-dwellers, and nowhere more than central London.

So how does this relate to Pimentel’s case? Pimental challenged the constitutionality of the City of Los Angeles parking fine of $63 and the subsequent late payment fee as violating the Eighth Amendment Excessive Fines Clause – which owes much of its heritage to the Magna Carta. Cue the royal trumpets. The district court ruled the city has the right to set fines for violations of its temporary “lease” of city parking spaces, much like King John had the right to punish those who poached deer from Sherwood Forest (not making this up—read the case for yourself). The district court granted summary judgment to the city on both the initial parking fine and the late fee.

The Court of Appeals held the Excessive Fines Clause does indeed apply to municipal parking fines and the appellate judges (who are paid a base salary of $229,500) held that the $63 fine is not grossly disproportional to exceeding the time on the parking meter. However, the appellate court allowed the late payment penalty of $63 might just violate the Excessive Fines Clause. So Pimental and company will go back to the district court for a trial on the issue. I’m pretty sure $63 just about covers the cab fare to the courthouse for just one of the seven lawyers assigned to the case.

This blog was featured in our Xiphos newsletter, a monthly legal-focused law enforcement newsletter authored by Ken Wallentine. Subscriptions are free for public safety officers, educators and public attorneys.

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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