The Parking Ticket Lawsuit
This lawsuit, Gillespie and Hamel vs. City of Northampton, was filed on 8/22/05 by Vincent Gillespie (formerly of Easthampton, MA) in the Hampshire Superior Court against the City of Northampton. (Ed Hamel, of Southampton, joined the suit shortly thereafter as a second plaintiff.) Attorney Bill Newman, director of the western Massachusetts Office of the ACLU, represented the plaintiffs.
The central issue in the lawsuit is that if a Massachusetts resident wants to dispute a parking ticket the avenues of appeal available to him are very flawed. First he is required to pursue an informal appeal with the parking clerk (the same agency that issued him the ticket). Although there is no charge for this process it may fail to provide an impartial forum and it does not satisfy due process of law. If the parking clerk denies the appeal and the ticket recipient wants to appeal further and to have a proper hearing in court, he is required (pursuant to Mass. G.L. c. 90, §20A or §20A½, and Mass. G.L. c. 30A, §14) to file his appeal in Superior Court and to pay a filing fee of $275 plus additional fees, bringing the cost to about $300 or more. This applies even if the parking ticket was for only $5.00. And the filing fees are non-refundable even if he prevails. For practical purposes the state of Massachusetts has taken away our right to contest a parking ticket in court. This violates the Massachusetts Constitution, Part The First, Article XI (which guarantees each Massachusetts citizen access to the courts to address “…all injuries or wrongs which he may receive in his person, property, or character.”). Furthermore, Massachusetts is the only state in the US to do this, to deprive its citizens of (meaningful) access to the courts to appeal parking tickets.
At the trial court level Judge Bertha Josephson issued summary judgment against the Plaintiffs (Gillespie and Hamel) regarding the issue of whether or not it violated the Massachusetts Constitution to send parking ticket appeals to the Superior Court, where the fees are so high that there will be almost no appeals at all. That court also issued summary judgment in the Plaintiffs’ favor on another point – it ruled that the city of Northampton had been illegally depriving residents of live, in-person administrative hearings with the parking clerk regarding their parking ticket appeals (in violation of Mass. G.L. c. 90, §20A½). (Northampton had been allowing written appeals but not live, in-person hearings.)
The Plaintiffs then appealed to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals. While the case was pending there (and before the Appeals Court got to it) the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) took the case from the Appeals Court sua sponte (SJC case # SJC-10791). The SJC also took another related case sua sponte from the Appeals Court, Salem Police Department vs. Sullivan (SJC case # SJC-10790) (which challenged the high filing fees required to obtain a court hearing to appeal a moving violation ticket in Massachusetts) and these two cases were heard together by the SJC on March 10, 2011.
On 7/14/11 the SJC issued a decision which denied the appeal in the Parking Ticket Case. That decision is very flawed and a critical analysis of it can be read by clicking here.
On 11/21/11 the SJC issued a decision which denied the appeal in the Sullivan case. That decision relied in part on the SJC’s 7/14/11 decision in the Parking Ticket Case.
Vincent Gillespie and the ACLU have been working to get a bill passed in the Mass. state legislature which would require parking ticket appeals to be heard in Small Claims court rather than Superior Court and which would limit the filing fees for such appeals and make the filing fees refundable if the appellant prevails. (The current version of the bill, H2340, would also greatly improve the process for appealing motor vehicle violation tickets received by bicyclists by allowing such appeals to be heard in Small Claims Court with small, refundable filing fees.) here to read about that.