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Nassau County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency (TPVA) Administrative Fees are okay - Nassau Sup

Anyone living in or driving through Nassau County knows that the area is expensive, one of the most expensive places to live in the country in fact. In addition to high property taxes and a plethora of other taxes and fees (try recording a deed in Nassau County), the Traffic and Parking Violations Agency of Nassau County ("TPVA") has taxed motorists with administrative fees as a result of its camera-ticket projects. From School Speed Zones to Red Light Cameras, Nassau County and the TPVA have worked with an outside agency (a for profit company) that manages its ticketing program via the use of cameras that are reviewed by the same outside agency. Rather than rebuke the law or fees through their elected officials, the Plaintiffs allege that the fees are unconstitutional.

The Court characterizes the suit as:

In this class action, plaintiff seeks, inter alia, a declaration that "[d]efendants' driver-responsibility fee as it relates to the red-light camera program . . . [is] ultra vires, unconstitutional; pre-empted, void or otherwise illegal" (Complaint, ¶ 60(b)). Plaintiff also alleges that the County has been "unjustly enriched" by the imposition of the Driver Responsibility Fee and seeks restitution of such fees. (external quotation marks omitted).

The Court, at the outset, sets the stage for this litigation based on another case brought by Judge Sam Levine:

In County of Nassau v Samuel M. Levine, 29 Misc 3d 474 [Nassau Dist Ct 2010, Kluewer, J.], the Court summarized Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1111-b, which authorized the County to initiate a "red light" camera system program in which owners of vehicles photographed crossing streets against the light were to be fined for the infraction. The statute included the power of the District Court to adjudicate liability thereunder, and Judge Kluewer also noted the County's determination, though a local law, to have that function of the District Court performed by the Nassau County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency (TPVA). The plaintiff in his complaint does not seek to overturn this section of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, undisputedly directed to improving safety and preventing deaths and injuries by discouraging motorists from running red lights (see Sponsor's Mem, Bill Jacket, L 2009 AB 7329), but rather asks this Court to declare that any additional amounts collected by the County are beyond the maximum "liability" imposed for violations, and thus are beyond what the law allows. (external quotation marks omitted and internal citations preserved)

The law is clear that Nassau County is allowed to charge administrative fees: Nassau County Ordinance 190-2012, amending 16-2011, provides, in pertinent part, as follows as part of the owner's responsibility upon a finding of a red-light violation: "Final Disposition Other Than Not Guilty Fee (`Driver Responsibility Fee') - $30.00." The legislative finding supporting the charge is stated in the amending ordinance to be that "the current fee charged to motorists appearing before TPVA whose cases have been adjudicated to a final disposition other than not guilty is currently below the actual cost of adjudicating those cases."

The Plaintiff states that the legislature never contemplated the additional fees, basically telling the Court that this way of finding new sources of revenue was not considered by the legislature or open to the public for debate. The Nassau Supreme Court rejects this argument, finding that "here is nothing in the language of the statute itself that abrogates the existing and long-standing authority holding that a municipality may impose fees reasonably related to the cost of administering and/or enforcing its own regulations and programs." (citations omitted). Besides, "`A system that simultaneously raises money and improves compliance with traffic laws . . . cannot be called unconstitutionally whimsical'" (Krieger v City of Rochester, 42 Misc 3d 753, 767 [Sup Ct Monroe County 2013], quoting Idris v City of Chicago, Ill., 552 F3d 564, 566 [7th Cir 2009]).

Finding no preemption (a separate issue,) "The Court therefore concludes that the statute places all maximum charges in the category of penalties, and does not foreclose charging owners with an administrative fee as permitted by Municipal Home Rule Law § 10 and the decisions cited above." The administrative fees stand.

It seems clear that the redress this Plaintiff seeks must come from the legislature. The Case is Guthart v. Nassau County et al, 604271-16 (Sup. Ct. Nass. Cnty Jan. 19, 2017).

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