WASHINGTON—This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case about whether the government can duck scrutiny of excessive fines by calling them “civil penalties.” Monica Toth, a Boston-area grandmother, challenged a $2.17 million civil penalty under the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. Monica appealed with the Institute for Justice (IJ), a non-profit public interest law firm that defends property rights nationwide.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote against the denial saying, “[T]aking up this case would have been well worth our time. As things stand, one can only hope that other lower courts will not repeat its [1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals] mistakes.”
“Monica’s experience shows that civil penalties can have devastating consequences for real people,” said IJ Senior Attorney Sam Gedge. “Naturally, we’re disappointed that the Court declined to take up this case. The Excessive Fines Clause should serve as a key check on economic sanctions, and we hope the First Circuit will heed Justice Gorsuch’s dissent and correct its misreading of the Excessive Fines Clause in future cases.”
“Justice Gorsuch understood what’s at stake,” said IJ Attorney Brian Morris. “Under the First Circuit’s decision, governments are incentivized to impose massive civil fines to raise revenue. And individuals, like Monica, are left helpless to the whims of the government—no matter the size of the penalty that it picks.”