Recently the SJC upheld a $275 filing fee for appeals of parking violations in VINCENT GILLESPIE & another vs. CITY OF NORTHAMPTON 460 Mass. 148 (2011). In essence, the court goes on to say that the town could impose such an appeal filing fee to offset its own costs and did not violate the purchase of justice clause of art. 11 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights or the principle of separation of powers found in art. 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.
The court in deciding stated “In a civil action seeking a judgment declaring that the imposition of a filing fee of $275 to obtain judicial review of a final decision of a municipal parking clerk regarding a parking citation offends the Massachusetts Constitution, the judge properly granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant city, where, given that judicial review of administrative agency decisions is not a fundamental right and the statutory scheme in G. L. c. 90, § 20A ½, did not impair the exercise of any other paradigmatically fundamental right, the imposition of such a fee did not violate the plaintiffs’ substantive due process rights, in that it was rational for the Legislature to aim to establish a consistent procedure and forum for appeals from administrative agency adjudications; where the designation of Superior Court as the chosen forum for judicial review of parking citations did not violate the plaintiffs’ rights to procedural due process, in that the private interest at stake (the loss of personal property in an amount as high as one hundred dollars, but in most cases between fifteen and fifty dollars) could not be regarded as precious and the risk of an erroneous deprivation of that interest was rather low, while the government interest in judicial economy and deterrence of frivolous appeals was substantial; where the plaintiffs, who alleged that the statutory scheme in G. L. c. 90, § 20A ½, violated principles of equal protection, failed to demonstrate that there was no rational basis for the filing fees and designation of the Superior Court as the forum for judicial review, given the significant qualitative differences between alleged parking offenders and other classes of litigants existed that justified the difference in treatment; and where the statutory scheme did not violate the purchase of justice clause of art. 11 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights or the principle of separation of powers found in art. 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.
3. Discussion. The plaintiffs launch a broad facial challenge to the constitutionality of § 20A 1/2 and the attendant filing fees it imposes for judicial review. We note at the outset that it is well settled that a “statute is presumed to be constitutional and every rational presumption in favor of the statute’s validity is made.” Pielech v. Massasoit Greyhound, Inc., 441 Mass. 188 , 193 (2004), citing St. Germaine v. Pendergast, 416 Mass. 698 , 702-704 (1993). The challenging party bears the burden of demonstrating “beyond a reasonable doubt that there are no ‘conceivable grounds’ which could support its validity.” Leibovich v. Antonellis, 410 Mass. 568 , 576 (1991), quoting Zeller v. Cantu, 395 Mass. 76 , 84 (1985). While there is a considerable measure of conceptual overlap in the due process, equal protection, and access to justice principles the plaintiffs invoke, we are obliged to treat each constitutional claim as analytically distinct. See Paro v. Longwood Hosp., 373 Mass. 645 , 648-654 (1977). We address each in turn.”
The court goes on to explain why each constitutionally based challenge fails before concluding that. “For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the plaintiffs have failed to establish that § 20A 1/2 is discordant with the Massachusetts Constitution, and we uphold the grant of summary judgment in favor of Northampton.
Attorney Ronald A. Sellon