Basic information

This case is titled Salem Police Department vs. Ralph SullivanRalph Sullivan was both the attorney and the plaintiff in this case.

The case was about the fact that very burdensome filing fees are required in Massachusetts to appeal a moving violation citation.   Massachusetts law (Mass. G.L. c. 90C, section 3[A][4]) requires that if a driver is cited for a moving violation (such as a speeding ticket or some other type of ticket relating to the operation of a motor vehicle [not a parking ticket]) and he wants to contest the ticket he must first pay $25 to get an informal hearing before a magistrate.  If the driver is still dissatisfied and he wants to appeal further and get a proper judicial hearing before a judge he is required to pay an additional $50.   Thus, for a driver to get his appeal of a moving violation before a judge he is required to first pay $75.  And those fees are non-refundable even if the appellant prevails.

Mr. Sullivan was cited for a lane violation on April 30, 2009.  He paid the required $25 to appeal and had a hearing before a magistrate in which he was found responsible.   He then paid an additional $50 in order to appeal further to a judge and this time he was found not responsible (the correct officer did not show up).   Mr. Sullivan then asked the judge for a refund of the $75 in filing fees he had paid.  The court refused.

Therefore, Mr. Sullivan appealed to the Mass. Court of Appeals, arguing that the filing fees violate the equal protection clause (Amendment XIV of the US Constitution), which holds that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  He argued that people who receive moving violation citations are treated differently from those who receive other minor violations (such as a citation for smoking in a prohibited area), since the former must pay filing fees to be heard in court while the latter do not have to do so.  Mr. Sullivan also argued that the filing fees make it unduly burdensome to appeal a moving violation to a court in violation of Article XI of the Massachusetts Constitution.

While the case was pending in the Appeals Court (and before that Court got to it) the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) took the case for its own consideration sua sponte (on its own motion) (SJC case # SJC-10790).  The SJC also took another related case sua sponte from the Appeals Court, Gillespie and Hamel vs. City of Northampton (SJC case # 01791) (relating to parking ticket appeals) and these two cases were heard together by the SJC on March 10, 2011. On September 21, 2011 SJC issued its decision in this case which denied plaintiff Ralph Sullivan’s appeal.

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