Opinion 91-37


This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.


FINES AND PENALTIES -- Disposition of Parking Fines (received by city parking violations bureau for violations of Vehicle and Traffic Law, §§306 and 402)
PARKING AND TRAFFIC REGULATIONS -- Parking Regulations (disposition of fines received by city parking violations bureau for violations of Vehicle and Traffic Law, §§306 and 402)

VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC LAW, §§235, 237, 306(b), 402(6), 1200, 1803: Fines and penalties received by a city parking violations bureau for violations of section 306 (lack of inspection certificate) and 402 (lack of license plate) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, which occur while a motor vehicle is parked on a public highway, should be retained by the city as parking fines and penalties. 1981 Opns St Comp No. 81-85, p 86 is superseded to the extent it is inconsistent herewith.

A question has been raised regarding the proper disposition of fines and penalties collected by a city Parking Violations Bureau (PVB) for violations of sections 306 and 402 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law which occur while a motor vehicle is parked on a public highway. Section 306 prohibits, inter alia, the operation or parking of a motor vehicle on a public highway without a certificate of inspection. Section 402 prohibits, inter alia, the operation or parking of a motor vehicle on a public highway without a license plate.

The Cities of Yonkers, New York, Buffalo and Rochester are authorized to establish PVB's governed by the provisions of article 2-B of the Vehicle and Traffic Law (§§235-244). PVBs are administrative tribunals that have jurisdiction of traffic infractions constituting parking, standing or stopping violations (Vehicle and Traffic Law, §235). Such tribunals may also have jurisdiction in other specific instances (see Vehicle and Traffic Law, §236[1],[3],[4]).

Fines and penalties collected by a PVB are civil in nature and are enforceable in the same manner as the enforcement of money judgments in civil actions (see Vehicle and Traffic Law, §§155, 237[5], 241[2][3]). Moreover, fines and penalties are retained by the city (Vehicle and Traffic Law, §237[7]).

Fines and penalties for violations of Vehicle and Traffic Law, §§306 and 402 normally would be sent to the State under the comprehensive distributional scheme in Vehicle and Traffic Law, §1803. However, sections 306(b) and 402(6) were amended in 1972 by adding the following sentence to each:

Any violation of this section that occurs while a motor vehicle is parked on the public highways of this state shall constitute a parking violation.

In 1981 Opns St Comp No. 81-85, p 86, we concluded that fines, penalties and forfeitures collected by a town or village justice court for violations of sections 306, 401 and 402 should be reported to the Justice Court Fund as violations of those sections and distributed to the State pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law, §1803(1). We reached this conclusion even though parking fines and penalties, as violations of Vehicle and Traffic Law, §1200 et seq., are ordinarily returned to the municipality under §1803(1) and the 1972 amendments expressly provide that violations of sections 306 and 402 shall be parking violations if the vehicle is parked. Now, upon reconsideration of Opn No. 81-85, supra, we conclude that it is in error with respect to violations of sections 306 and 402 which occur while a motor vehicle is parked on a public highway.

Fundamental rules of statutory construction prohibit interpretation of provisions which, like the amendments to section 306(b) and 402(6), are on their face clear and unambiguous. There is nothing in the language of these amendments to suggest the intent that the application of the direction contained therein is to be in any manner limited. As amended, Vehicle and Traffic Law, sections 306 and 402 clearly direct, without exception, that any violation of these sections which occurs while a motor vehicle is parked on a public highway "shall constitute a parking violation". Therefore, there is no authority to treat such violations of sections 306 and 402 other than as parking violations for any purpose, including for purposes of collection or distribution of fines and penalties.

Moreover, it is at least questionable whether the general distribution provisions of Vehicle and Traffic Law, §1803(1) apply to a PVB. The introductory paragraph of subdivision one of section 1803 provides in part as follows:

1. Except as otherwise provided in subdivision four of section two hundred twenty-seven of this chapter ... all fines and penalties collected under a sentence or judgment of conviction of a violation of this chapter or of any act relating to the use of highways by motor vehicles or trailers, now in force or hereafter enacted, shall be distributed in the following manner: (emphasis added)

As stated previously a PVB is an administrative tribunal which imposes fines and penalties of a civil nature that are enforceable in a civil action in like manner as a civil money judgment is enforced. Therefore, fines and penalties collected by a PVB are not "collected under a sentence or judgment of conviction", as provided in section 1803(1). While this distinction may not in and of itself be controlling of the legislative intent, it is worth noting that the other article in the Vehicle and Traffic Law relating to administrative tribunals with jurisdiction over traffic infractions other than parking, standing, stopping or pedestrian offenses (article 2-A, §§225-228 - see reference to §227 in quote above), although providing that the proceedings and the fines and penalties are civil in nature (see §227[4][a],[b]), also provides specifically that a final order "shall be treated as a conviction for the purposes of this chapter" (§227[4][a]). Article 2-B, relating to PVBs, does not contain similar language.

We conclude, therefore, that fines and penalties collected by a PVB for violations of sections 306 and 402, which occur while a motor vehicle is parked on a public highway, constitute fines and penalties for parking violations, and, therefore, should be retained by the city in which the PVB is located pursuant to the provisions of article 2-B (§237[7]). We note that the portion of Opn No. 81-85, supra concerning the distribution of fines and penalties for violations of Vehicle and Traffic Law, §401 (inter alia, operation of an unregistered vehicle) is not affected by the conclusion reached herein. Opn No. 81-85 supra is hereby superseded to the extent inconsistent with this opinion.

September 30, 1991
Melvin I. Rosenblat, Director
Justice Court Fund