On June 13, 2005, represented by the Center for Justice, in Spokane, the plaintiff brought suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, seeking to strike down a Washington state statute as unconstitutional. The statute, RCW § 70.48.390, allowed jails to require each person who is booked into jail to pay a fee based on the Jail's actual booking costs or one hundred dollars, whichever is less. The fee is payable immediately from any money then possessed by the person being booked into jail. RCW § 70.48.390.
In accordance with RCW § 70.48.390, the Spokane County Board of Commissioners passed Resolution 04-0160 in February 2004. That resolution authorized the Spokane County Jail to develop and implement a procedure to collect a fee from persons booked into jail. On May 5, 2004, pursuant to Resolution 04-0160, the Jail adopted an official policy authorizing the collection of a booking fee. Under this Policy, federal inmates are charged the federal daily rate while non-federal inmates are charged the actual jail booking costs--$89.12. Pursuant to the statute, the Policy allows the fees to be taken directly from any funds found on the person at the time of booking.
In this case, the plaintiff was arrested based on a domestic violence complaint and booked into the Spokane County Jail on October 31, 2004. His wallet was inventoried as personal property that would be returned upon his release, but the Jail took all of the money in it as payment on the booking fee. The Spokane County jail did not inform the plaintiff he was being charged a booking fee, that there was a reimbursement policy in place, or that the money was required to be returned if his charges were dropped or he was acquitted. He was released from jail the next day after all of the charges were dropped. Upon his release, his money was not returned and he did not receive a copy of the Jail's reimbursement policy. The Spokane County Jail eventually returned the plaintiff's money several months later, after his lawyer sent a letter to Spokane County stating the Jail's booking fee policy was unconstitutional.
In January 2005, the Jail modified its forms and procedures related to the collection of booking fees, instituting the requirement that each person booked into jail receive paperwork outlining methods for obtaining reimbursement. Further, persons who were released and not charged within 72 hours, automatically, without request, were to have their booking fees returned if paid in part or in full. The Jail also automatically voided any unpaid--but not paid--booking fees for all inmates who were found not-guilty, acquitted, or had their charge dismissed.
The plaintiff sought partial summary judgment, arguing that the statute and the implementing policy were facially unconstitutional. The County, joined by the State as intervenor, defended. On August 29, 2006, Judge Fred Van Sickle granted plaintiff's motion, holding that the statute and policy violated due process, because they allowed the deprivation of plaintiff's property without a hearing or other chance to oppose the confiscation. The County and State moved for reconsideration. On April 13, 2007, Judge Van Sickle granted defendants' motion and dismissed plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief on the basis that plaintiff lacked standing to bring a facial challenge as to the constitutionality of RCW § 70.48.390 and the Jail's booking fee policy. The plaintiff's damage claim survived. Judge Van Sickle ordered further briefing on the issue of whether the application of RCW § 70.48.390 and the Jail's booking policy to the plaintiff and others was constitutional.
On October 12, 2007, Judge Van Sickle partially granted the plaintiff's summary judgment motion on the issue of liability. It held that under Matthews v. Eldridge [424 U.S. 319 (1976)], the application of the Jail's booking fee policy to the plaintiffs deprived them of due process of law. To satisfy the test, the court found that seizure of all of the funds in the plaintiffs' possession implicated a significant private interest, and that the risk of erroneous deprivation in application of the policy was extreme compared to the municipality's interest in increasing revenue. In this situation, due process required a pre-deprivation hearing.
Class certification was granted on August 25, 2008. It included all individuals from May 5, 2004 to December 20, 2006 who were deprived of their property pursuant to the booking fee policy of the Spokane County Jail without being provided the constitutionally guaranteed due process of law. The defendant filed a motion to reconsider the grant of class action status, saying that the booking policy changed in January 2005. In denying the motion to reconsider, the court said that although
the January 2005 policy mandated that individuals booked into jail receive paperwork outlining methods for reimbursement and booking fees and were automatically returned to persons not charged within 72 hours, it still resulted in the deprivation of individuals' property upon booking into the Jail without due process. The actual deprivation of property, without due process, occurred upon the collection of a booking fee without an opportunity to contest the taking of the money. In the same order, the judge denied the defendant's motion to reconsider the October 2007 grant of partial summary judgment on the issue of liability. However, he granted a certification for interlocutory review. On January 26, 2009, the defendant filed an appeal of the October 2007 grant of partial summary judgment to the plaintiff in the Ninth Circuit [09-35074].
For most of 2009, the parties worked on a settlement agreement. In the Ninth Circuit, the case was referred for mediation, but the parties never met before the mediator as a settlement was reached out of court. A preliminary joint settlement was approved by the District Court on September 18 of 2009. After hearing out some objections from the defendant's side, the parties filed a final joint motion for settlement on March 1, 2010. It was approved by the court on March 19. The appeal was dismissed after the settlement was approved by the District Court.
The plaintiff class received $491,668, with $147,487.48 going to attorney's fees. The named plaintiff, Shawn Huss, received $10,000 as an incentive award.
From March to December 2010, a handful of individual class members appealed with the Ninth Circuit in order to opt out of the settlement agreement. The case was voluntarily dismissed on April 9, 2012.Margo Schlanger - 09/10/2006
Dan Hofman - 03/24/2016