Netzer Law News
Lawsuit: City illegally took fee - Billings Gazette
September 18, 2018, Mike Kordenbrock
The city of Billings has illegally collected a $10 surcharge from every person who has been convicted or pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges or traffic violations since 2005, a class-action lawsuit filed Friday argues.
The lawsuit argues that “since sometime in 2005,” Billings “has been illegally collecting administrative surcharges and processing fees from every person who was convicted or has pleaded guilty of any misdemeanor criminal charge or traffic violation.”
The Netzer Law Office and West Law Firm filed the suit in Yellowstone County District Court on Friday on behalf of John M. Gurr.
Gurr entered a plea of no contest in 2017 after the city charged him with violating an order of protection according to the Montana Code Annotated, the lawsuit says.
Gurr had to pay $95 as a result of his plea. According to the lawsuit, $10 of that went to an administrative processing fee.
The $10 surcharge is outlined in Billings city code under section 10-402.
According to the Billings code, that fee can be added as “part of the disposition of all citations, complaints, and municipal infractions, criminal, civil, and traffic, for which there is a conviction, bond forfeiture, finding or admission of violation, nolo contendre plea, or plea of guilty entered.”
Per the Montana Supreme Court ruling Tuesday in Corinne M. Franklin v. City of Missoula, municipal courts can't add local surcharges for violations of state law. The Billings class action lawsuit cites that ruling in its allegations.
Tuesday's state Supreme Court ruling led to a lawsuit in Missoula, where a woman who pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor in Missoula Municipal Court in 2017 is suing for a refund of that $25 surcharge. Her attorneys are also seeking to file a class action lawsuit to return that surcharge to everyone who has paid it since the resolution was passed more than five years ago.
The Billings lawsuit claims that anyone who has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to an offense in Billings Municipal Court and paid the $10 surcharge is eligible to join the suit.
Gurr's attorneys are seeking reimbursement for surcharges to him and other participants in the lawsuit, attorney fees for Gurr as the class action suit representative, payment of “a reasonable incentive award out of the common fund resulting in a successful recovery” for Gurr and any other relief deemed appropriate.
Reached Monday, Billings City Attorney Brent Brooks said he was working to schedule a meeting with Municipal Court Judge Sheila Kolar to review the city’s ordinances “and make sure whatever we have going on here, whatever code ordinances, are compliant with the new Supreme Court opinion.”
Brooks said he thinks one or two city ordinances might need to be changed in light of the recent ruling.
Brooks said the city has not yet been served in the suit but would follow the city’s standard practice of sending the matter first to the Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority for coverage determination.
Brooks said he was not yet sure whether the city would handle the matter with in-house or outside counsel, if MMIA denies coverage.
Anyone who believes they may be a member of this class or who wants more information can contact West Law Firm and Netzer Law Office or visit billingssurchargelawsuit.com, according to a release from the attorneys.
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