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Case Name Buffin v. City and County of San Francisco CJ-CA-0016
Docket / Court 4:15-cv-04959-YGR ( N.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Special Collection Fines/Fees/Bail Reform (Criminalization of poverty)
Attorney Organization Equal Justice Under Law
Case Summary
On October 28, 2015, arrestees in San Francisco who were unable to afford the bond set by the fixed “bail schedule” filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs sued the City and County of San Francisco and the State of California under 42 ... read more >
On October 28, 2015, arrestees in San Francisco who were unable to afford the bond set by the fixed “bail schedule” filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs sued the City and County of San Francisco and the State of California under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201. The plaintiffs, represented by Equal Justice Under Law, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, damages suffered as a result of defendants’ conduct, and reasonable attorneys’ fees. The plaintiffs claimed that San Francisco’s wealth-based pretrial detention scheme violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that by adhering to the generic “bond” schedule set by state law, San Francisco’s system jailed some of its poorest residents prior to a first court appearance solely because they couldn't pay an arbitrary amount of money.

It was the policy and practice of the City and County of San Francisco to refuse to release arrestees from jail unless they paid a generic “bond” amount. That amount was determined by a fixed “bail schedule” set by San Francisco under direction of state law. Because this sum was set by reference to the alleged offense of arrest, no individualized factors are considered, and anyone who couldn't afford to pay was held in jail for at least two days before any court appearance.

On February 1, 2016, the court (Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers) issued an order granting the State’s motion to dismiss under sovereign immunity, denying the City’s motion to dismiss, granting the City’s motion for a more definite statement, denying without prejudice the plaintiffs’ motions for preliminary injunction and to certify class, and denying proposed intervenor California Bail Agents Association’s motion to intervene as premature. Unable to identify the precise legal challenge being made by plaintiffs as well as the precise relief they seek against the City (especially in light of the State being dismissed), the court found that the City’s motion for a more definite statement was warranted. The court further determined that the plaintiffs’ motions for preliminary injunction and class certification could not be properly ruled on without a clearly articulated legal theory in the complaint.

On February 5, 2016, the defendants filed a notice of pendency of another action regarding Gary Wayne Welchen v. Kamala Harris & County of Sacramento, No. 2:16-cv-00185-TLN-KJN, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on January 29, 2016. The claims were similar or identical to those asserted in this case. The plaintiff in that case, who sought certification of a class, contended that Sacramento’s bail schedule, set by the judges of the Superior Court as required by California law, violated his constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.

The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on February 25, 2016, and a second amended complaint on March 17, 2016. The defendants moved to dismiss the latest complaint on March 31, 2016, arguing that the court should request a more definite statement as to the relief the plaintiffs requested. The plaintiffs then filed a third amended complaint on May 27 against the City and County as well as the Sheriff. The defendants moved to dismiss the this complaint on June 23.

On October 14, 2016, the court granted in part and denied in part the motion to dismiss. Specifically, the court dismissed claims against the Sheriff as to money damages because the Sheriff acts on behalf of the state by detaining someone for inability to pay bail as prescribed in the schedule set by the Superior Court. As a state actor, the Eleventh Amendment provides the Sheriff with immunity from money damages. The court, however, denied the motion to dismiss with respect to declaratory or injunctive relief sought against the Sheriff for alleged Fourteenth Amendment violations. Finally, the court dismissed the one alleged claim against the County, finding that "[t]he State is the relevant actor when the Sheriff detains a person who does not pay bail and plaintiffs have not alleged a municipal policy or practice for which the County may be held liable." 2016 WL 6025486.

On March 6, 2017, the court granted the California Bail Agents Association (CBAA) permissive intervention. CBAA and the plaintiffs then filed motions for summary judgment on October 31, 2017. The same day, the plaintiffs filed a motion to certify the following class: "all arrestees who are, or who will be, in the custody of the City and County of San Francisco because they cannot afford the bail set by San Francisco’s fixed bail schedule and who are otherwise eligible for release."

Meanwhile, on December 11, 2017, the Francisco Public Defender's Office filed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs.

On January 16, 2018, the court denied both motions for summary judgment. The court found that strict scrutiny applies to the plaintiffs' claims since they alleged invidious discrimination that risks depriving individuals of the fundamental right to liberty. As such, the court held that CBAA's claim that rational basis review applies because there is no constitutional right to pre-arraignment release cannot stand. Separately, the court held that the factual record was insufficient to support the plaintiffs allegations of Fourteenth Amendment violations. 2018 WL 424362.

On January 22, 2018, the court related this case to Dupree v. Hennessy, N.D.C.A. Case No. 18-cv-00310.

The case is ongoing.

Katrina Fetsch - 02/08/2016
Virginia Weeks - 02/04/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief denied
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Over/Unlawful Detention
Poverty/homelessness
Timeliness of case assignment
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) City and County of San Francisco
State of California
Plaintiff Description Arrestees imprisoned in county jail because they are unable to pay the amount of money set by the fixed “bail schedule” used by San Francisco in order to obtain release.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Equal Justice Under Law
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Pending
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filing Year 2015
Case Ongoing Yes
Docket(s)
4:15-cv-04959-YGR (N.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0016-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/09/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 1]
CJ-CA-0016-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/28/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Setting Teleconference [ECF# 13] (2015 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 147727) (N.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0016-0003.pdf | LEXIS | Detail
Date: 10/30/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order on Pending Motions [Re: Dkt. Nos. 2, 7, 20, 26, 41] [ECF# 55] (2016 WL 374230 / 2016 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 12411) (N.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0016-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/01/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Third Amended Class Action Complaint [ECF# 71]
CJ-CA-0016-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/27/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order on Motions to Dismiss and Motion to Intervene [ECF# 99] (N.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0016-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/14/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying BCAA's Motion for Summary Judgment; Denying Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 191] (N.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0016-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/16/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Rogers, Yvonne Gonzalez (N.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0016-0002 | CJ-CA-0016-0003 | CJ-CA-0016-0005 | CJ-CA-0016-0006 | CJ-CA-0016-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Hubbard, Katherine (District of Columbia)
CJ-CA-0016-0001 | CJ-CA-0016-0004 | CJ-CA-0016-9000
Karakatsanis, Alec (District of Columbia)
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Telfeyan, Phil (District of Columbia)
CJ-CA-0016-0001 | CJ-CA-0016-0004 | CJ-CA-0016-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Baum, Brandon D. (California)
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Dhillon, Harmeet K. (California)
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Goldman, Jeremy Michael (California)
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Zelidon-Zapeda, Jose Alfonso (California)
CJ-CA-0016-9000

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