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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
At the commencement of this lawsuit, the City and County of San Francisco did not 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 ... read more >
At the commencement of this lawsuit, the City and County of San Francisco did not 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 were considered, and anyone who couldn't afford to pay was held in jail for at least two days before any court appearance.

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. The plaintiffs claimed that this 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 could not pay an arbitrary amount of money. 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 case was assigned to Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers.

Both the State of California and San Francisco filed motions to dismiss; California’s motion was granted under sovereign immunity, but San Francisco’s was denied. The court did grant San Francisco’s motion for a more definite statement, because the court was unable to identify the precise legal challenge being made by the plaintiffs as well as the precise relief they sought against the City (especially in light of the State's dismissal). The court also denied the plaintiffs’ motions for a preliminary injunction and to certify the class because these 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 Welchen v. Harris & County of Sacramento (No. 2:16-cv-00185-TLN-KJN), which asserted similar, potentially identical claims to this case. The plaintiff in that case 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 a series of amended complaints, which added as defendants the San Francisco Sheriff in her official capacity and Kamala Harris in her official capacity as the California Attorney General. The third and most recent amended complaint was filed on May 27, 2016. It sought, among other things, a declaratory judgment that the City and County of San Francisco and the Sheriff violated the named plaintiffs’ and proposed class members’ constitutional rights by keeping them in jail solely because they could not make a monetary payment. It also requested an order declaring that the California Penal Code section on bail and any other state statutory or constitutional provisions requiring the use of secured money bail to detain without an inquiry into ability to pay were unconstitutional. Lastly, the plaintiffs sought another injunction to prevent the defendants from enforcing their unconstitutional wealth-based detention policies and practices. For monetary relief, the plaintiffs sought compensation for the damages they suffered as a result of the defendants’ unconstitutional and unlawful conduct, including damages resulting from their confinement in jail, and attorneys' fees and costs.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, which the court granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, the court dismissed claims against the Sheriff as to money damages because the Sheriff’s actions on behalf of the state—detaining individuals for inability to pay bail as prescribed in the schedule set by the Superior Court—were protected by the Eleventh Amendment. The court also dismissed the 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. The court denied the motion to dismiss with respect to declaratory or injunctive relief sought against the Sheriff for alleged Fourteenth Amendment violations.

The California Bail Agents Association (CBAA) was granted permissive intervention. Both the CBAA and the plaintiffs filed motions for summary judgment, which were both denied: the court found that strict scrutiny applied to the plaintiffs' claims since they alleged invidious discrimination that risked depriving individuals of the fundamental right to liberty. And the court held that CBAA's claim—that rational basis review applied because there was no constitutional right to pre-arraignment release—could not stand. Separately, the court held that the factual record was insufficient to support the plaintiffs’ allegations of Fourteenth Amendment violations.

Two additional named plaintiffs in another case, Dupree v. Hennessy (No. 18-cv-00310) filed a motion to relate that case to Buffin on January 27, 2018, because both cases concerned substantially similar putative classes and events, and had significant overlap in parties, legal issues, claims, and relief sought. In both cases, the named plaintiffs were pre-arraignment arrestees in the custody of the City and County of San Francisco, who were unable to meet a secured financial condition of release determined without regard for their ability to pay. Both cases claimed that the defendant San Francisco Sheriff had violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Constitution with the wealth-based detention scheme tying pretrial freedom to the ability to make a monetary payment. Since the Sheriff’s wealth-based detention scheme was the focus of both cases, the judge granted the motion to relate Buffin and Dupree on January 22, 2018.

On February 26, 2018, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion to certify the class with modifications. The class was defined as “All pre-arraignment arrestees
(i) who are, or will be, in the custody of the San Francisco Sheriff;
(ii) whose bail amount is determined by the Felony and Misdemeanor Bail Schedule as established by the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco;
(iii) whose terms of pretrial release have not received an individualized determination by a judicial officer; and
(iv) who remain in custody for any amount of time because they cannot afford to pay their set bail amount.” 2018 WL 1070892.

On September 28, 2018, the plaintiffs moved for summary judgment. The plaintiffs sought a permanent injunction enjoining the sheriff from using any form of the Bail Schedule against any member of the class, a permanent injunction prohibiting the sheriff from detaining new arrestees unconstitutionally, a plan submitted by the sheriff detailing new release options, and reasonable attorneys’ fees. The defendants moved for summary judgment on November 1, 2018.

On March 4, 2019, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. The court found that the plaintiffs were deprived of their fundamental right to liberty solely because they were indigent. The plaintiffs had shown that an individualized inquiry into the risk an arrestee has to public safety and failure to appear is less restrictive and at least as effective at serving the state’s interest as the use of a Bail Schedule. Last, the court found the CBAA failed to show that the plaintiffs’ proposed alternative for an individualized inquiry would be less effective or more restrictive than the use of a Bail Schedule. The court delayed issuing an injunction enjoining the sheriff from using the Bail Schedule pending briefing by the parties. 2019 WL 1017537.

The court set the hearing regarding the actual language of the injunction for March 21, 2019.

This case is ongoing.

Katrina Fetsch - 02/08/2016
Virginia Weeks - 02/04/2018
Esther Vinarov - 02/01/2019
Hannah Greenhouse - 03/11/2019


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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
Bail/Bond
Courts
Disparate Impact
Fines/Fees/Bail/Bond
Over/Unlawful Detention
Poverty/homelessness
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
Kamala Harris
State of California
Vicki Hennessy
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 Yes
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
Additional Resources
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Docket(s)
4:15-cv-04959-YGR (N.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0016-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/11/2019
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] (2016 WL 6025486) (N.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0016-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | 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] (2018 WL 6025486) (N.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0016-0006.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 01/16/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Motion to Relate Cases [ECF# 200] (N.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0016-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/22/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification as Modified by Court [ECF# 214] (2018 WL 1070892) (N.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0016-0008.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 02/26/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF# 314] (2019 WL 1017537) (N.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0016-0009.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/04/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Rogers, Yvonne Gonzalez (N.D. Cal.) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-0002 | CJ-CA-0016-0003 | CJ-CA-0016-0005 | CJ-CA-0016-0006 | CJ-CA-0016-0007 | CJ-CA-0016-0008 | CJ-CA-0016-0009 | CJ-CA-0016-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bauer, Steven (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Chiu, Aaron T. (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Derrick, David (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Hubbard, Katherine (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-0001 | CJ-CA-0016-0004 | CJ-CA-0016-9000
Huseny, Sadik Harry (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Karakatsanis, Alec (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Rogers, Ariel E. (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Sevcenko, Catherine B. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Sims, Robert E. (Maryland) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Telfeyan, Phil (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-0001 | CJ-CA-0016-0004 | CJ-CA-0016-9000
Toney, Clare Kathleen (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Tough, Margaret (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Young, Tyler Paul (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Zisser, Aaron B. (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Baughman, Krista Lee (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Baum, Brandon D. (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Dhillon, Harmeet K. (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Goldman, Jeremy Michael (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Gupta, Neha (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Michael, Gregory Richard (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Steeley, Tara M. (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Zelidon-Zapeda, Jose Alfonso (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000
Other Lawyers McCord, Mary B. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0016-9000

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