Alameda County contracts with Leaders in Community Alternatives (LCA) to provide court-ordered GPS tracking and alcohol monitoring devices for people on pre-trial or home detention. Individuals are required to pay a $150 “Initial Enrollment and Administrative Fee” and a $2.50 per day or $765 per month. Both must be paid at least two weeks in advance. LCA also charges $25 for drug tests, which they require of people even if drugs or alcohol are unrelated to their offense. Failure to pay these fees may result in the termination of the tracking program and jail. Plaintiffs have sacrificed their homes and borrowed money to pay LCA’s fees in order to avoid jail.
Although LCA is supposed to charge fees on a sliding scale based on a person’s ability to pay, LCA does not adjust its fees based on a person’s actual financial circumstances and never informs people that reduced fees are available. If a person asks about reduced fees, LCA asserts that there will be processing delays and waiting lists, and then determines ability-to-pay based on household income rather than the individual’s income.
In this class action, Plaintiffs contend that the LCA program violates the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) because LCA and the County have conspired to extort money from plaintiffs. Plaintiffs also contend that by delegating responsibility for the tracking program to LCA, Alameda County has violated the Due Process clause which prohibits judicial and civil and criminal law enforcement officials from having a direct financial interest in the cases they prosecute and manage.
The Alameda County Defendants’ motion to dismiss was granted. The Leaders in Community Alternative Defendants’ motion to dismiss was granted in part and dismissed in part. They key points of the decision are as follows:
- Injunctive Relief: Though Plaintiffs previously participated in LCA’s electronic-monitoring program, no Plaintiff currently participates in the program, and Plaintiffs’ allegations that they were reasonably likely to be sentenced to LCA if they were found to be in violation of the terms of their probation were too speculative. Further, the facts as pled failed to show a real and immediate threat of future injury. Thus, Plaintiffs failed to meet the standing requirements for injunctive relief.
- Equal Protection: The Court found that rational basis review applies to Plaintiffs equal protection claim despite Bearden because plaintiffs did not allege they were incarcerated or had their probation revoked for failure to pay. Applying rational basis review, Alameda County’s interest in providing an electronic-monitoring program was legitimate, and requiring individuals to pay fees to participate in the program was rationally related to that interest. The Court also found that the policies plaintiffs challenged were applied equally to every defendant regardless of financial status.
- Due Process: Because the contract with LCA, as well as state law, requires that he ultimate decision regarding an individual’s ability to pay is with the judge, not LCA employees, there is a neutral decisionmaker and hence no due process violation. Additionally, Plaintiffs failed to sufficiently plead facts to support a Monell claim based on practice or custom, or failure to train.
- RICO: Plaintiffs alleged two predicate acts: wire fraud and extortion. The Court found plaintiffs had failed to adequately plead wire fraud, but did successfully plead two narrow facts that are sufficient at the pleading phase to allege extortion. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ RICO claim against LCA itself could proceed.
- Abuse of Process: Plaintiffs failed to allege sufficient facts showing that incident reports were filed to scare program participants into paying LCA’s fees.
On June 6, 2019, Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification was denied. The Court found that Plaintiffs could not satisfy the commonality requirement for certification of the proposed class of people who were threatened with jail if they did not pay, in part because it included people who “could not pay” as well as people who “would not pay.” It also found that the proposed class had a wide-range of income levels and that resolving Plaintiffs’ RICO claim would require “individualized inquiries into the circumstances into the circumstances surrounding oral communications between LCA employees and putative class members.” Thus, the Court determined that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that common issues of fact or law would predominate in resolving their RICO claim.
On August 23, 2019, the Court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file a first amended complaint.
On December 19, 2019, the Court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The motion ultimately turned on whether LCA’s conduct was wrongful. The Court reasoned that because employee threats “are only considered extortionate under the Hobbs Act and California Penal Code if the employee ma[kes] them wrongfully,” and that “nonviolent threats made outside the labor context are not inherently wrongful,” the predicate crime of extortion did not exist so as to support Plaintiffs’ RICO claims. The Court found that Plaintiffs knew that their nonpayment could result in “a violation report with the likely possibility of being remanded to jail,” and that they agreed to pay fees as part of their respective electronic monitoring programs. Thus, it found that LCA’s conduct was not wrongful because LCA had a right to at least some of Plaintiffs’ payments.
On January 15, 2020, Plaintiffs appealed the District Court’s opinions and orders on the motion to dismiss, motion for class certification, motion for leave to file a first amended complaint, and motion for summary judgment (as well as the corresponding final judgment) to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Oral argument before the Ninth Circuit is scheduled to be held on Tuesday, January 12, 2021 at 9 AM PST.
You can find a detailed summary and read the text of the complaint here, and you can also read more about a plaintiff, James Brooks.