University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name Welchen v. Sacramento CJ-CA-0023
Docket / Court 2:16-cv-00185-TLN-DB ( E.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
This case arises out of an incident beginning on January 29, 2016, when a 50-year-old disabled homeless man from Sacramento was arrested and accused of second-degree burglary of an uninhabited dwelling. He was taken to the Sacramento County jail and told that he would only be released if he paid $10 ... read more >
This case arises out of an incident beginning on January 29, 2016, when a 50-year-old disabled homeless man from Sacramento was arrested and accused of second-degree burglary of an uninhabited dwelling. He was taken to the Sacramento County jail and told that he would only be released if he paid $10,000. The same day, the plaintiff filed this class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The case was assigned to Judge Troy L. Nunley.

The plaintiff sued the County of Sacramento, Kamala Harris in her official capacity as the Attorney General of California, and the Sacramento County Sheriff, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201, alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. The plaintiff, represented by Equal Justice Under Law, moved to certify a class of “all arrestees who are or will be in the custody of the County of Sacramento County who and are or will be detained for any amount of time because they are unable to pay money bail.” He sought a declaratory judgment that Sacramento County’s wealth-based detention scheme violated his constitutional rights. He also sought a temporary restraining order and a preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining the County of Sacramento and Sacramento County Sheriff from using money bail to detain any person due to his or her inability to make a monetary payment, and requiring that all release and detention decisions be based on factors other than wealth status or ability to pay.

The plaintiff claimed that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses prohibit jailing a person because of his or her inability to pay, and that the County’s policy of requiring money bail pursuant to California Penal Code § 1269(b) amounted to unconstitutional wealth-based detention. Specifically, he claimed that:
  1. The County’s wealth-based detention system was excessive in relation to its purpose of ensuring court appearances; at any given time, there were approximately 4,400 inmates in the Sacramento County Jail, roughly 57% of whom were being detained pretrial. Furthermore, the complaint indicated that while tying pretrial freedom to wealth-status was the norm for Sacramento, many other jurisdictions throughout the country employed non-monetary conditions of release, and released arrestees with pretrial supervision practices that could help increase court attendance and public safety without requiring detention.
  2. The detention system failed to provide for individualized risk assessment levels, leading to consistent imprisonment of poor people and release of rich people regardless of whether an individual was dangerous or a flight risk.
  3. Subjecting the poor to unnecessary pretrial detention disrupted employment and housing, caused instability for care-dependent relatives, and led to worse outcomes at trial when compared with those who were released pretrial.
On February 4, 2016, the court denied the motion for a temporary restraining order. The Attorney General then moved to dismiss the case, and the County joined the motion and moved alternatively for a more definite statement of law. On October 11, 2016, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss as to the plaintiff’s Equal Protection claim and granted the motion for a more definite statement of law regarding the Due Process claim. The court also denied as moot the pending motion for class certification. The plaintiff then filed an amended class-action complaint, proposing the same class definition as the original complaint.

Shortly thereafter, the Attorney General moved to dismiss the case and the County and Sheriff jointly filed a separate motion to dismiss. The defendants moved to dismiss under four main arguments: first, that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the Eleventh Amendment, second, that the County was not liable for the Sheriff’s conduct because the Sheriff was acting on behalf of the state; third, that the County was not liable because its involvement with the bail law amounted to ministerial compliance with state law instead of a deliberate choice; and fourth, that the plaintiff failed to state a claim.

On October 26, 2018, the court ruled on the defendants’ motions together granting in part and denying in part. 343 F. Supp. 3d 924. Specifically, the court held that:
  1. The Eleventh Amendment did not bar the suit, because the claim fell within an exception for the putative class members seeking injunctive relief against state officers in their official capacities for alleged violations of federal law.
  2. The County was not liable for the claim challenging the Sheriff’s actions because the Sheriff was acting on behalf of the State rather than the County.
  3. The plaintiff had stated plausible claims that the bail law was either facially invalid or excessive in relation to its purposes under the Due Process Clause.
As of August 2020, the case is in discovery.

Sara Stearns - 03/31/2019


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief denied
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Law-enforcement
General
Fines/Fees/Bail/Bond
Over/Unlawful Detention
Placement in detention facilities
Poverty/homelessness
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) California Attorney General
County of Sacramento
Sacramento County Sheriff
Plaintiff Description A prisoner in the Sacramento County Jail who is unable to pay bail.
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
Filed 01/29/2016
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
click to show/hide detail
  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Welchen v. Sacramento
https://equaljusticeunderlaw.org
Date: Oct. 10, 2016
By: Equal Justice Under Law
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
2:16-cv-00185-TLN-DB (E.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0023-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/19/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
CJ-CA-0023-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/29/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Motion for Temporary Restraining Order [ECF# 12] (2016 WL 430517) (E.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0023-0002.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 02/04/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Complaint [ECF# 31]
CJ-CA-0023-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/09/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Dismissing Case in Part [ECF# 42] (343 F.Supp.3d 924) (E.D. Cal.)
CJ-CA-0023-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 10/26/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Barnes, Deborah Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0023-9000
Nunley, Troy Lynne (E.D. Cal.) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0023-0002 | CJ-CA-0023-0004 | CJ-CA-0023-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Davy, James P (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0023-9000
Telfeyan, Phil (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0023-0001 | CJ-CA-0023-0003 | CJ-CA-0023-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Cassidy, Terence J (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0023-9000
Fessenden, Carl L. (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0023-9000
Nordlander, Jeffery A. (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0023-9000
Whitefleet, John Robert (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0023-9000
Zelidon-Zapeda, Jose Alfonso (California) show/hide docs
CJ-CA-0023-9000

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -