Inflation-Based Adjustments in Federal Civil Monetary Penalties

56 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2012 Last revised: 7 Apr 2016

See all articles by James Ming Chen

James Ming Chen

Michigan State University - College of Law

Date Written: September 18, 2012


Civil monetary penalties play a vital role in federal law. The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-410, prescribes rules for the regular adjustment of federal civil monetary penalties in response to inflation. Three statutory defects have undermined the Inflation Adjustment Act. First, the Act's 10 percent cap on initial adjustments creates an "inflation gap" relative to the level that would properly reflect inflation. Second, the Act directs federal agencies to use Consumer Price Index data that are at least 7 months and as many as 18 months out of date. This creates "CPI lag" in the adjustment of civil monetary penalties. Third, the Act's rounding rules can force some agencies to wait 15 years or more between adjustments.

Originally prepared as a report for the Administrative Conference of the United States, this article examines the Inflation Adjustment Act and recommends possible legislative remedies for the Act's defects.

Keywords: inflation, CPI, consumer price index, cost of living, civil monetary penalties, administrative law, Inflation Adjustment Act

Suggested Citation

Chen, James Ming, Inflation-Based Adjustments in Federal Civil Monetary Penalties (September 18, 2012). Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol. 34, No. 1, 2015. Available at SSRN: or

James Ming Chen (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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