|Legal Opinion: |
Text of Document: MEMORANDUM
FROM: Melissa Ashburn, Legal Consultant
DATE: September 23, 2004
RE: Power of municipal judge to order traffic offender to attend specific driver safety classes
You have asked me if a city judge may order a traffic offender to attend specific driver safety courses as a condition for dismissal of the charges. This question arose when a traffic offender from City A was ticketed in City B. The municipal judge permitted the offender to attend a traffic safety course near her residence in City A, and she completed the course and the charges were dismissed. No fees or funds were received by City B from City A, so the driver safety program administered by the city did not benefit. In addition to asking whether the judge may order the offender to attend classes administered by the city, you also ask if there are any grounds for the city to claim reimbursement when an offender attends classes at another location.
There are no cases or Attorney General opinions on this issue, but statutory language is helpful. The statute under which cities establish “driver education” courses is Tennessee Code Annotated § 55-10-301. This section of the law permits cities to operate courses or to contract with a nonprofit organization or private entity to conduct classes. Whatever method the city chooses to follow, the law requires that:
Each court clerk shall provide a list of approved entities in such county to any person ordered to attend a driver education or improvement course. T.C.A. § 50-10-301(b)(4).
Due to this language, specifically the words I have emphasized, the court may order the offender to attend a course in the county in which the court is located. The court does not have to permit a driver to attend a course in another county.
However, as the clerk is required by law to provide a list of approved courses “in the county,” the implication is that the court cannot require that the traffic offender attend the course administered by the city.
With regard to your question about potential reimbursement, in my opinion there are no grounds for the city to make a claim for reimbursement. The statute addresses the costs which may be charged for attending a driver education course as “fees.” T.C.A. 55-10-301(b)(2). As you are aware, fees charged for municipal services must bear a reasonable relationship to the cost of the service provided. Due to this longstanding legal principal in Tennessee municipal law, a city which does not provide the service cannot claim a “fee.” As such, in my opinion the city may not claim reimbursement for driver education or safety courses attended at another location.
I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you need anything further.