Gonzales v. City of Austin

Plaintiffs alleged that the City of Austin jails people who are unable to pay court fines and fees. There is no inquiry into their ability to pay, no appointment of counsel, and community service is not offered as an alternative. An arrest warrant is issued and fines are increased by 50 % the first time a person fails to appear. Further, the court charges 30% of the total amount of fines and fees when the ticket is referred to a collection agency. In court, people with smaller debts are asked to empty their pockets and pay whatever money they have on hand, and those with larger debts are asked how much they can produce that day under the threat of jail.


Case dismissed without prejudice because the City could not be held liable for judges acting within their judicial capacities. A judicial act is a “function normally performed by a judge. A municipal judge often decides when a person should be jailed for failure to pay. Further, the rules permit the judge to use his discretion and does not mandate a particular action so it cannot be characterized as municipal policy.

You can read the full text of relevant court documents via the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse.

42 USC § 1983 (alleging due process and equal protection violations)
1:15-cv-00956 (W.D. Tex.)
October 27, 2015, amended December 8, 2015
Texas Fair Defense Project, University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, Susman Godfrey LLP, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP