Knowledgebase-Authority to Levy Fine for Ordinance Violation of Fifty Dollars per Day


Information Product

Title:Authority to Levy Fine for Ordinance Violation of Fifty Dollars per Day
Summary:MTAS was asked whether a Town may provide for the levy of a fine of fifty dollars ($50.00) per day for ordinance violations.
Original Author:Huffer, Dennis
Co-Author:
Product Create Date:03/07/2003
Last Reviewed on::03/23/2010
Subject:Fines and court costs; Fines and court costs--Municipal ordinances; Municipal ordinances; Courts--Municipal
Type:Legal Opinion
Legal Opinion: Authority to Levy Fine for Ordinance Violation of Fifty Dollars per Day public.doc

Reference Documents:

Text of Document: March 7, 2003


Re: Authority to Levy Fine for Ordinance Violation of Fifty Dollars per Day

Dear City Recorder:

You asked whether the Town may provide for the levy of a fine of fifty dollars ($50.00) per day for ordinance violations. In my opinion, the Town may provide for the levy of such a fine when the fine is “prospectively coercive.”

The problem with levying any fine greater than fifty dollars is a constitutional provision that is unique to Tennessee. Article VI, 14 of the Tennessee Constitution provides in pertinent part:

No fine shall be laid on any citizen of this State that shall exceed fifty dollars, unless it shall be assessed by a jury of his peers... .

Since there are no juries in city courts, this restriction applies there. The recent consolidated cases of City of Chattanooga v. Davis and Barrett v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, 54 S.W.3d 248 (Tenn.2001), hold that a fine may exceed the fifty dollars when it is “remedial” rather than punitive. The cases indicate that a fine is remedial if it compensates for loss, reimburses expenses, disgorges ill-gotten gains, provides restitution, or ensures compliance with a directive. In this latter case the fine is denominated “prospectively coercive.”

It is this latter situation in which the Town might be able to use the distinction created by these cases to greatest advantage. That a prospectively coercive remedy must be applied to a situation implies a continuing violation. The words “prospectively coercive” also imply notice to the continuing offender that he/she will be subject to a fine of fifty dollars a day until the violation is remedied.

The Supreme Court in the case of Town of Nolensville v. King, 151 S.W. 3d 427 (Tenn. 2004), appears to recognize that a fine of $50.00 per day may be levied for punitive reasons by a municipal court. Therefore, a cumulative fine based upon per day violations may exceed $50.00. This also means that there is a possibility that "remedial fines," which the Court says include those that are prospectively coercive, may exceed the $50.00 per day limit.

The other “remedial” situations referred to above are more problematic and seem to import tort liability and equitable remedies into the city court fine situation. It is really difficult to see how they fit. So the prospectively coercive fine is the most likely avenue the Town can use to levy a fine of fifty dollars per day.

I hope this is helpful. If you have further questions, please feel free to call.

Sincerely,

Dennis Huffer
Legal Consultant

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