Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive fines applies to the States.

Timbs v. Indiana, 2019 U.S. LEXIS 1350 (U.S. February 20, 2019)

Facts: Tyson Timbs was arrested, and two years later pled guilty in Indiana state court to dealing in a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit theft. The trial court sentenced him to one year of home detention and five years of probation, which included a court-supervised addiction-treatment program. The sentence also required Timbs to pay fees and costs totaling $1,203.

Timbs had bought a Land Rover SUV for $42,000 with money he received from an insurance policy after his father’s death. At the time of Timbs’ arrest, police had seized his SUV. The State of Indiana sought civil forfeiture of the SUV, arguing that it had been used to transport heroin. After Timbs pled guilty, the trial court held a hearing on the forfeiture demand.

The trial court denied the State’s request, observing that Timbs had recently purchased the vehicle for more than four times the maximum $10,000 monetary fine assessable against him for his drug conviction. The trial court determined that forfeiture of the Land Rover would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs’ offense, and thus unconstitutional under the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed the trial court’s determination, but the Indiana Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Excessive Fines Clause constrains only federal action and is inapplicable to state impositions. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari to review.

Held: The United States Supreme Court explained as an initial matter that the Bill of Rights originally applied only to the Federal Government when the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. After the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment and other postwar amendments “‘fundamentally altered our country’s federal system.’” McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U. S. 742, 754. The Court observed that “[w]ith only ‘a handful’ of exceptions, this Court has held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause incorporates the protections contained in the Bill of Rights, rendering them applicable to the States.” Id., at 764-765. The Court explained that “[a] Bill of Rights protection is incorporated … if it is ‘fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty,’ or ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.’ Id., at 767[].” If a Bill of Rights protection is incorporated, the Court added, the protection is enforced against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment with “no daylight between the federal and state conduct [the incorporated Bill of Rights protection] prohibits or requires.”

The Eighth Amendment, one of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights, provides: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The Court explained that, like the prohibitions of cruel and unusual punishment and excessive bail, the protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government’s punitive or criminal-law-enforcement authority. Here, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider the question: Is the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause an “incorporated” protection applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause? Resolving the question required a determination whether the protection against excessive fines was “fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty,” or “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.”

The Supreme Court noted that in 1787, the constitutions of eight States (which encompassed 70% of the U. S. population at the time) prohibited excessive fines. By the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, the constitutions of 35 of the 37 States expressly prohibited excessive fines. The Court explained that despite these laws, excessive fine abuses persisted in America even after the civil war. The Court observed that today all 50 states, including Indiana, have a constitutional provision barring the imposition of excessive fines either directly or by requiring proportionality.

As such, the Court had found the historical case for the Clause’s incorporation compelling. The Supreme Court additionally explained that excessive fines undermine other liberties because they can be used to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies, or as a source of revenue instead of furthering penal goals of retribution or deterrence. The Court therefore, determined that the historical and logical case for concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause was “overwhelming.”

Accordingly, the United States Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Indiana Supreme Court and remanded for additional proceedings.

For a more detailed discussion of this case, please see Client Alert Vol. 34, No. 7, available at www.jones-mayer.com.


Case law at the time involved circumstances too distinct to establish that a reasonable officer would perceive a substantial risk that detainee would immediately attempt suicide; thus, officer entitled to qualified immunity.

Horton v. City of Santa Maria, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 3313 (9th Cir. Feb. 1, 2019)

Facts: In December 2012, Santa Maria Police Department Officers Andrew Brice and Duane Schneider arrested eighteen-year old Shane Horton (“Horton”) for slashing an acquaintance’s car tire. Horton was cooperative. Unbeknownst to the officers or the Department, Horton had been harming himself, using drugs, and contemplating suicide during recent months. Two weeks before Horton’s arrest, he was admitted to the emergency room after he burned his own face and hands with cigarettes, punched his fist through a window, tried to cut his wrist, and held a kitchen knife pointed to his throat. Horton was initially held as a suicide risk but he expressly denied having any ideas of suicide. After an emergency room physician and a member of the county’s Crisis and Recovery Emergency Services (“CARES”) team agreed that drug use was the source of behavior not suicidal thoughts, Horton was released the following morning.

After Horton’s arrest, Officer Schneider took Horton to the local police station while Brice interviewed Horton’s girlfriend. At the station, Schneider patted Horton down, confiscated Horton’s wallet and music device, and put Horton in a temporary holding cell. Horton did not remove Horton’s belt. Horton expressed his feelings of anxiety and need to speak to someone. When Schneider asked if Horton had any medical problems, Horton said he was quite healthy, but just anxious and hated being in a cell. Schneider left after instructing Horton to wave to the security camera if he needed anything. Horton repeated that he had no medical problems to an inquiring officer a few minutes later.

About 90 minutes later, Officer Brice came to the station, and told Horton that the girlfriend and her friend told the officer that Horton slapped the friend. Brice also told Horton that Horton’s girlfriend had been granted a restraining order for a week, and that he would be charged with felony domestic violence. Horton also told Brice that he had no medical conditions. Horton was back in the holding cell when he had a call with his mother, Yvonne. Yvonne then asked to speak privately with Officer Brice by phone. Brice left Horton in the cell, and called Yvonne back when he was out of Horton’s earshot.

Yvonne and Brice spoke for ten to fifteen minutes. Yvonne stated in her deposition that she told Officer Brice “everything” about Horton’s behavior two weeks earlier – Horton’s drug use, violent behavior, his emergency room hospitalization with an initial hold for suicide, and the CARES official’s conclusion that Horton could be released because his conduct was due to drugs not suicidal ideation. She also expressed that she disagreed with the CARES conclusion, and that her son was currently depressed and suicidal. She said she told Brice to “please, watch him, please look after him, please.” In response to Yvonne’s pleas to look after her son, Officer Brice reassured her that “[h]e’s safe here.” When asked at deposition whether she ever told the police officer he had to go check on Horton immediately, she said, “I didn’t think that I would have to do that. . . . I was under the impression, after I spoke to [him] in that way, that he would go back and check on him.” Instead of going immediately back to the cell, Officer Brice first wentto complete the paperwork necessary to transport Horton to jail and prepare the transport van. Returning to the cell about 27 minutes after he had moved left Horton in his cell unattended to call Yvonne, Officer Brice found Horton hanging from the cell door (using the belt) and not moving. Brice immediately called for assistance, administered CPR, and waited for the paramedics to arrive to transport him to the hospital. Horton survived but suffered severe and permanent brain damage due to oxygen deficiency as a result.

With Yvonne Horton acting as guardian ad litem, Horton brought suit under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 and California law. He contended that the City of Santa Maria, the Santa Maria Police Department, Officer Brice, Officer Schneider, and other officers violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to be safeguarded from injury and his state law right to medical care while in custody. The District Court granted summary judgment to all defendants on the state law negligence claim and to all officers except Officer Brice on the Section 1983 claims. The District Court held that there was a genuine issue of fact regarding whether Officer Brice acted with deliberateindifference to Horton’s safety after speaking with his mother, and denied Brice qualified immunity. The court also denied summary judgment to the municipal defendants on Horton’s Section 1983 claim. Finally, the District Court denied summary judgment to Officer Brice and the municipal defendants on the California Government Code section 845.6 claim, but granted summary judgment on that claim to the other individual officers. Officer Brice and the municipal defendants appealed.

Held: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals explained that qualified immunity protects government officials, including police officers, from liability for civil damages unless their conduct violates “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Plaintiffs bringing Section 1983 claims against individual officers must thus show that (1) a federal right has been violated and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the violation. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). Using its discretion to choose either element first, the Court of Appeals chose the “clearly established” element. At the time of the incident here, the generally applicable standard established that officers who act with deliberate indifference to the serious medical need of a pretrial detainee violated the detainee’s constitutional rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Under Ninth Circuit law at the time of the incident, an officer was liable for deliberate indifference only if he was aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists and actually drew the inference. Simmons v. Navajo County, 609 F.3d 1011, 1017 (9th Cir. 2010).

The Ninth Circuit held that Officer Brice was entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law because a reasonable officer would not have known that failing to attend to Horton immediately after the phone callwould be unlawful under the law at the time of the incident. Horton was cooperative throughout, his girlfriend told Officer Brice that Horton was not presently suicidal, and Horton told Brice he had no medical problems. Although Yvonne told Brice that she thought he was a suicide risk, the Court found the relevant case law at the time of Horton’s attempted suicide was “simply too sparse, and involved circumstances too distinct” from those here, to establish that a reasonable officer would perceive a substantial risk that Horton would imminently attempt suicide. The Court therefore reversed the District Court’s denial of summary judgment in favor of Officer Brice on the Section 1983 claim.

The Court noted that the law had since changed to a purely objective standard under Castro v. County of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc). Under Castro, the standard is whether there was “a substantial risk of serious harm to the plaintiff that could have been eliminated through reasonable and available measures that the officer did not take, thus causing the injury that the plaintiff suffered.” Id. at 1070. This current standard eliminates the inquiry into the officer’s subjective state of mind.

Addressing the Section 1983 claim against the municipal defendants, the Court explained that Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. established that municipalities may be liable under Section 1983 for violation of constitutional rights, under certain conditions. The Court explained that when a municipal defendant’s motion for summary judgment is “inextricably intertwined” with issues presented in the individual officers’ qualified immunity appeal, the Ninth Circuit could exercise pendent party appellate jurisdiction. However, the Court found here that the pendent Monell claim was not inextricably intertwined with a properly reviewable collateral appeal, because the Court’s resolution of Officer Brice’s appeal from the denial of summary judgment on qualified immunity did not necessarily resolve Horton’s Monell claim. Accordingly, the Court held that it lacked jurisdiction to review the District Court’s denial of summary judgment in favor of the municipalities on the Monell claim, and remanded for District Court consideration of the claims in light of recent guidance in Castro and Gordon v. County of Orange.

Lastly, the Court affirmed the District Court’sdenial of summary judgment to the defendants on the state law claim under California Government Code section 845.6, concluding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to liability under state law. In reaching this conclusion, the Court found a reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Brice had reason to know Horton had a serious medical condition and required “immediate medical care” as that term is interpreted under California law, and that he failed timely to summon such care. Dissenting in part, Judge Bybee would have reversed the district court’s denial of summary judgment on the state law claim, because he believed that there was no basis under California law for subjecting Officer Brice to suit.


18 U.S.C. section 924(d)(1) provides that firearm or ammunition ‘involved in’ violation of any other criminal law shall be subjected to forfeiture; thus, forfeiture was available.

United States v. Soto, 915 F.3d 675 (9th Cir. 2019)

Facts: In December 2015, Jessica Bridget Soto purchased 28,500 rounds of ammunition in Phoenix, Arizona. She then transported the ammunition to the United States-Mexico border and provided it to a coconspirator. The next month, Soto purchased 26,000 more rounds of ammunition in Phoenix. Agents arrested Soto while she was transporting this second purchase of ammunition south towards the border. She was charged with two counts of attempting to export ammunition from the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 554 (“Section 554”), and one count of conspiracy to export firearms and ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 371 (“Section 371”). The indictment charged that, upon conviction, the firearms and ammunition involved in the offenses would be forfeited. Soto pleaded guilty to one of the attempted-exportation counts and to the conspiracy count, and was sentenced to four years’ probation by the District Court. The court also ordered the forfeiture of the firearms and ammunition that the government seized. Soto did not object to the forfeiture order at sentencing. After Soto filed her notice of appeal, she filed a motion to correct what she claimed to be clear error at sentencing under F.R.C.P Rule 35(a). She said there was an absence of any statutory authority for forfeiture in this case. The District Court denied the motion, and Soto appealed.

Held: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the forfeiture order. Soto argued that criminal forfeiture is available only if a federal forfeiture statute expressly references the criminal statute under which a defendant is convicted. She maintained that forfeiture is unavailable here because Section 554 and Section 371 were not expressly mentioned in any federal forfeiture statute. Rejecting this argument, the Court explained that 18 U.S.C. section 924(d)(1) authorizes forfeiture of firearms and ammunition involved in a federal crime. The section provides that “[a]ny firearm or ammunition involved in or used in any . . . violation of any other criminal law of the United States . . . shall be subject to seizure and forfeiture . . . .” The Court noted that the Supreme Court held in Smith v. United States that the term ‘involved’ should be defined broadly. The Court thus found that the District Court did not err because 18 U.S.C. section 924(d)(1) authorizes forfeiture of firearms and ammunition involved in a federal crime.


  1. Janus does not render state-mandated exclusive bargaining arrangement a First Amendment free association violation.

Miller v. Inslee, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 5613 (9th Cir. Feb. 26, 2019)

Facts: The State of Washington provides financial assistance to qualifying families for childcare costs. Under this program, families choose independent childcare providers and pay them on a scale commensurate with the families’ income levels. Washington covers the remaining cost. In 2006, Washington re-categorized providers as “public employees” strictly for collective bargaining purposes, and authorized the Service Employees International Union Local 925 (SEIU) to act as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for Washington’s publicly subsidized childcare providers.

Katherine Miller and Cynthia Mentele, two Washington state childcare providers, filed suit in March of 2015 against State officials and SEIU. The plaintiffs alleged violated their First Amendment rights of free speech and association since SEIU necessarily spoke and negotiated on their behalf. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The District Court granted the defendants’ motion, and denied that of the plaintiffs. Miller alone appealed the District Court’s judgment to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

Held: On appeal, Miller argued that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was bound by the recent United States Supreme Court decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, Council 31. SEIU and the State argued that Minnesota State Board for Community Colleges v. Knight controlled instead.

The Court explained that Knight involved community college professors who challenged a Minnesota state law which required the state to “meet and confer” exclusively with the faculty union for questions of employment but outside the scope of mandatory bargaining. The Knight Court found that the exclusion of non-union members from the State’s “meet and confer” provision did not infringe the non-union members’ First Amendment rights to free speech and association, because non-union members had not been denied access to a public forum, had no right to be heard by, or negotiate individually with, a public body, and that the non-union members could make their views known to the State via advocacy groups or in other ways, and associate with whomever they wished to associate.

The Ninth Circuit explained that “Janus suggested that exclusive bargaining representation does significantly impinge on associational freedoms, but in the same breath the [Janus]Court stated that this degree of impingement is justified or ‘tolerated’ in the context of collective bargaining agents.” Moreover, Janus specifically acknowledged that exclusive representation is constitutionally permissible and reaffirmed that “[s]tates can keep their labor- relation systems exactly as they are—only they cannot force nonmembers to subsidize public-sector unions.” The Ninth Circuit here found that Knight was a “closer fit than Janus” for the current case because it addressed the First Amendment rights of non-union members excluded from union meetings from the State, similar to Miller’s claim her rights of expression are infringed by SEIU’s speaking on her behalf even though she dislikes the union. Under Knight’s holding that there was no restriction of speech or association in the same type of system that Miller challenged here, Miller’s rights to free speech or association were not infringed.

The Ninth Circuit then held that even assuming that Knight no longer governed the question presented in light of Janus, the Court would still conclude that Washington’s exclusive bargaining arrangement with SEIU was constitutionally permissible. The Court noted that the childcare providers were partial state employees for whom SEIU’s scope of representation was relatively circumscribed and that the State’s exclusive bargaining arrangement with SEIU served the compelling and traditional state interest of labor peace.

  • Government Code section 31453.5 contains no express limitations on the County Retirement System’s authority to seek payment of Unfunded Liability; thus, Department of Education owed additional contributions to fund pension benefits.

Mijares v. Orange Cnty. Emps. Ret. Sys., 32 Cal. App. 5th 316 (4th Dist. 2019)

Facts: Teachers and principals in Orange County were all employed by the County and members of the Orange County Employees Retirement System (“County Retirement System”) until July 1, 1977. On that day, the Orange County Board of Supervisors (the “Board”) passed a resolution transferring “duties and functions of an educational nature” to the Orange County Department of Education (“Employer”), a public education organization. Under the terms of the transfer agreement, the Board gave educational employees the option of becoming a member of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (“CalPERS”) or remaining with the County Retirement System. Those who selected CalPERS would never again be eligible to enroll in the County Retirement System. A small number of employees elected to remain members of the County Retirement System. Employer was required to make yearly contributions to the County Retirement System, consisting of two components described in Government Code section 31453.5 thusly: (1) the normal contribution rate, calculated each fiscal year to fund the employees’ expected benefits attributed to that year; and (2) the Unfunded Actuarial Accrued Liability (the “Unfunded Liability”), which funds unexpected or unplanned benefits or costs. The County Retirement System set the contribution rates for each of its participating employers.

When the last employee enrolled in the County Retirement System retired in March 2013, Employer stopped making contributions. After County Retirement System determined Employer had not contributed enough to completely fund its employees’ benefits, County Retirement System created a payroll policy setting forth how Unfunded Liability should be determined by Employer. Per this policy, the County Retirement System informed Employer that Employer owed $3.3 million due to the Unfunded Liability attributable to 22 retired members still receiving benefits. Employer filed suit seeking declaratory relief that the policy was invalid, with an order enjoining County Retirement System from enforcement of the policy. The County Retirement System filed a cross-complaint also seeking declaratory relief seeking a judicial determination of the rights and obligations of the parties, and a declaration Employer must begin monthly payments. The lawsuits were reassigned to a Los Angeles County trial judge. The County Retirement System then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings (“JOP”). The trial court granted the motion for JOP after it determined the County Retirement System had acted within its authority when it created the policy, and assessed the Unfunded Liability against Employer.

Held: The California Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed. Employer’s first argument was that the policy was unlawful by “retroactively” raising Employer’s liability from zero to $3.3 million (the Unfunded Liability amount that the County Retirement System sought), but the Court said Employer failed to identify what was being applied retroactively. The Court explained that Employer’s obligation to pay the $3.3 million Unfunded Liability did not originate from the events of 1977 (when some but not all county employees transferred to CalPERS). Unfunded Liability did not represent ““a debt that is payable today.” Rather, the Court observed, “the obligation arises from predictions and future estimates about often-fluctuating factors over the years.” The Court explained the calculated Unfunded Liability applied to the 22 retired members prospectively in these benefits, and rejected Employer’s argument.

Employer also argued that the County Retirement System could only seek additional funds from “ongoing employers” under Government Code Section 31453.5, and that Employer was itself not an ongoing employer because all of its employees, who were members of the County Retirement System, had retired. The Court explained that Employer contended Section 31453.5 provided the “normal contribution rate” must always be calculated as a percentage of payroll, making “payroll” a prerequisite for paying contributions into the County Retirement System. The Court disagreed, finding the usual and ordinary meaning of the statute’s words did not support this interpretation. Section 31453.5 provides “the board may determine … contributions on the basis of a normal contribution rate which shall be computed” as a “percentage of compensation.” (italics added.) Thus, the County Retirement System’s board could validly use a different methodology. The Court concluded that Section 31453.5 contains no express limitations on the County Retirement System’s broad authority to assess and seek payment of Unfunded Liability. The Court accordingly affirmed.