But it’s only $30, two-thirds of the panel of life-tenured Article III judges mumbled to themselves as they bumped into walls and muttered, “‘scuse me, madam.” In fairness, Judge Joseph Peter Stadtmueller of the Eastern District of Wisconsin was sitting by designation. But then, Judge Diane Sykes not only let him write the opinion, but gave him the majority.
The third judge, David Hamilton, dissented. I would imagine that the fact he had to write a dissent on a case so utterly idiotic pissed him off. This is not a good use of judicial time, but he was left with no choice. Why? Because the majority opinion may, only eight days into the new year, be the winner for stupidest appellate decision of 2014. Yes, it’s that bad.
The facts of Markadonatos v. Village of Woodridge are fairly straightforward:
Under Title 5 of its Village Code, the Village of Woodridge charges every arrestee in its custody a $30 booking fee. Indeed, after Woodridge police arrested the plaintiff-appellant for retail theft on January 8, 2011, the Village collected its $30 booking fee from him, without any opportunity to contest that collection either before or after the fee was taken. Mr. Markadonatos is not alone—Woodridge has taken the same $30 fee from each of the large number of people arrested and booked in its vicinity.
As for Markadonatos, he was given a period of supervision, which he successfully completed, adjudicated not guilty. He then sued under 18 U.S.C. §1983 for violation of due process.
Notwithstanding the 35-pages of opinions that followed, Judge Stadtmueller explicitly notes the unworthiness of the court’s time:
The $30 fee is extremely modest, and of an amount that does not rise to the level of a fundamental right.
Except it’s not his $30, but the $30 taken from every person arrested in Woodridge. It doesn’t matter whether it’s $2 or $10,000, but whether the Village can charge people for the pleasure of being arrested.
Accordingly, we do not believe that any fundamental right is implicated, here, and therefore we need only ensure that Woodridge’s booking fee is rational and not arbitrary.
The answer, of course, is it was.
Woodridge’s booking fee clearly passes the rational basis test. In imposing the fee, Woodridge hopes to offset the cost of booking arrestees, or at the very least to collect revenue, either of which is a legitimate goal.
I don’t think rational means what Judge Stadtmueller thinks it does. And of course it isn’t “arbitrary” as they collect it from every person arrested, with or without probable cause, and whether ultimately found guilty or not. No exceptions. It doesn’t get less arbitrary, the court holds.
This is sheer insanity.
In dissent, Judge Hamilton writes what any person whose vision isn’t obscured by his rectum walls already knows:
This should be a simple case. The village’s “booking fee” ordinance is unconstitutional on its face. It takes property from all arrestees—the guilty and the innocent alike—without due process of law. The deprivation occurs at the time of arrest, immediately and finally. It occurs based on only the say-so and perhaps even the whim of one arresting officer. By no stretch of the imagination can that be due process of law.
This $30 booking fee, imposed immediately upon arrest because, well, a cop decided to arrest someone (and the donuts are ready, but that’s too snarky to say), is as facially, flagrantly, offensively unconstitutional as it gets. This isn’t a tough call.
By some junior high school-quality gymnastics, the majority goes through an overwrought standing argument to distinguish Markadonatos’ claim from others, noting that there was probable cause for his arrest, and that this “not guilty” adjudication wasn’t really because he wasn’t guilty, but because he completed supervision, as if this had anything whatsoever to do with the issue at hand.
This isn’t a “user fee,” as the majority’s test implies, unless they think a cavity search is worth the price of admission. They don’t get to charge someone for being arrested, regardless of whether they’re prosecuted or not, guilty or not, because there is a cost associated with it. Nobody asks for the joy of being arrested in Woodridge.
Perhaps the most difficult question about this case is whether the defense of this booking fee law is more similar to the fiction of Lewis Carroll or of George Orwell. First, let’s consider Lewis Carroll, who gave us the Queen of Hearts’ philosophy of “sentence first, verdict afterwards.” That describes the booking fee once we recognize it is in fact a fine for (suspected) criminal conduct. With that understanding, the due process problem should be self-evident.
Except this comes from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, by judges with life tenure, who bent over backwards and sideways to approve this absurdity.
The hat tip for this decision goes to Orin Kerr at Volokh Conspiracy, which has some very funny comments given how ripe this decision is for humor, but for the fact that it actually happened. The comments are definitely worth reading. The opinion, not so much, as it’s one of the most poorly written (as well as reasoned) opinions around.
No, this isn’t the worst deprivation of constitutional rights we’ve seen. No, this doesn’t involve life or liberty, and the fee isn’t so high as to evoke fiscal outrage (even though any amount seized unconstitutionally from a person is enough to warrant outrage), but it’s just so flagrantly unconstitutional that there is no way to ignore this decision.
And, dear Second Circuit, if you plan to compete for stupidest opinion of the year, you’ve got your work cut out for you. It won’t be easy to repeat your 2013 win with the Floyd and Ligon ruling tossing Judge Schiendlin. But don’t give up. The year is still young.