$547 Fine Violates Excessive Fines Clause, When It Exceeds the Target’s Ability to Pay
From City of Seattle v. Long, decided today by a largely unanimous Washington Supreme Court (in an opinion by Justice Madsen):
In 2016, Long was living in his truck. Long, then a 56-year-old member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation, worked as a general tradesman and stored work tools as well as personal items in his vehicle. One day, Long was driving to an appointment when the truck began making “grinding” noises. On July 5, 2016, Long parked in a gravel lot owned by the city of Seattle. Long stayed on the property for the next three months.
On October 5, 2016, police alerted Long that he was violating the SMC by parking in one location for more than 72 hours. Long claims he told the officers that he lived in the truck. Later that day, a parking enforcement officer posted a 72-hour notice on the truck, noting it would be impounded if not moved at least one city block. Long did not move the truck. While Long was at work on October 12, 2016, a city-contracted company towed his truck. Without it, Long slept outside on the ground before seeking shelter nearby to escape the rain and wind.
Long requested a hearing to contest the parking infraction. At the November 2, 2016 impoundment hearing, Long reiterated that he lived in his truck and kept all of his work tools in it. The magistrate found that Long had parked illegally, but the magistrate waived the $44.00 ticket, reduced the impoundment charges from $946.61 to $547.12, and added a $10.00 administrative fee. The magistrate drafted a payment plan requiring Long to pay $50.00 per month. Long felt “forced” to agree or risk losing his truck at a public auction….
A “uniquely American contribution” to real property law, homestead exemptions are based on the notion that citizens should have a home where family is sheltered and living beyond the reach of financial misfortune and the demands of certain classes of creditors. States began enacting homestead laws in the 19th century in order to provide security in an increasingly volatile American economy…. Washington’s constitution provides, “The legislature shall protect by law from forced sale a certain portion of the homestead and other property of all heads of families.” …
[We conclude that] RCW 6.13.040(1) automatically protects occupied personal property as a homestead, and no declaration is required. Long’s truck therefore constitutes a homestead. However, we agree with Seattle that no attachment, execution, or forced sale occurred. The homestead act protections were not triggered at this point in Long’s case because no party sought to collect on Long’s debt….
Long also seeks relief under the state and federal excessive fines clauses…. Absent support [in the briefing] for an indepe
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