Whitner v. City of Pagedale

Missouri law reduced the percentage of revenue from traffic tickets a municipality may use to fund operations from 30% to 12.5%. As a result, Pagedale generated money through fines imposed for municipal code violations. Residents were fined or imprisoned for having a basketball hoop in front of their house, undraped windows facing the street, dead vegetation on their property and other trivial  “offenses.” Further, residents were fined for harmless activities not mentioned in the Municipal Code, such as having a house with chipped paint. Unless there was a specific penalty, the default punishment was up to $1,000 in fines, or up to three months in jail, or both. The Pagedale Municipal court had two court sessions per month. A defendant could only plead not guilty in person but could mail in a guilty plea. If the defendant plead guilty but could not pay a fine, the court assigned a new date for the fine to be paid in person. Failure to pay resulted in an arrest warrant accompanied by additional fines, fees, and mandated court costs.

Consent Decree
  • Courts may no longer issue a warrant as a means to collect civil debt.
  • In all charging documents, Court must include information on the charges, potential penalty, pending deadlines, date and time of court session, procedure for seeking a continuance and possible remedies.
  • Court must hold a weekly session during the day and a weekly session in the evening.
  • City must hold a contempt hearing prior to imposing a penalty for failure to pay court fines and fees. The City must determine the defendant’s ability to pay the debt.

You can find a detailed summary and case documents via the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse.

42 USC § 1983 (alleging due process violations), Eighth Amendment (alleging excessive fines and fees)
4:15-cv-01655 (E.D. Mo.)
November 2015
Bryan Cave, LLP and Institute for Justice