5/1/2020New York Court Rejects Excessive Red Light Camera Fees
New York county court declares extra administrative fee for red light camera tickets unconstitutional.
Suffolk County may not charge $80 to resolve a $50 red light camera ticket. That was the ruling handed down Tuesday by Supreme Court Justice David T. Reilly (in New York, the county court that takes felony and large-dollar civil cases is referred to as the Supreme Court). The state legislature had set a maximum charge of $50 for each automated ticket, but the county decided to boost revenue with an extra $30 "administrative fee."
When the fee was just $50, between 2010 and 2012, the photo ticketing program run by ACS/Xerox (now operating as Conduent) generated $13 million in net profit for the county. After a fiscal crisis was declared in 2013, the county decided to tack on a $30 fee and double the number of red light cameras from fifty to one hundred. The extra charge generated $9.6 million in added profit for the county in 2014. Lawyers for motorist Robert McGrath Jr filed a class action suit, successfully arguing that the bloated charges were illegal.
"This fee is simply an unauthorized, additional fine designed to increase county revenues," lawyer David J. Raimondo wrote. "Suffolk's $30 fee is thus an unauthorized, unconstitutional attempt to expand driver liability beyond the limits delineated by the state legislature."
The suit, filed four years ago, seeks the return in full of all the $30 fees paid since the charge was first imposed. In evaluating the evidence, Justice Reilly cited the debate in the legislature when the red light camera law was adopted. Lawmakers emphasized that the fine was $50 with "no other surcharges" beyond a $25 fee if payment is late. The court found that a county could, in fact, charge a $30 administrative fee, but only if the red light camera fine is set in the county at $20.
"The plain reading of the New York State statute precludes the county from collecting anything more than the $50 per violation," Justice Reilly explained. "The designation of which portion of the maximum liability is fee or fine is entirely in the discretion of Suffolk County."
The court declared the $30 fee on top of the $50 fine unconstitutional and prohibited further collection of it, with the order suspended pending appeal.
"It is clear to this court that the state legislature was and is aware of both the safety and revenue benefits the red light camera programs provide cities and counties," Justice Reilly concluded. "The determinations made by this court raise serious fiscal implications for the county of Suffolk and before its intendments are carried to fruition, defendants must be afforded a further opportunity to be heard on this important matter."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 4mb PDF file at the source link below.