The Fourth Department determined a so-called “case management fee” (CMF) authorized by City of Rochester Municipal Code 90-21 is an unconstitutional penalty imposed without adequate due process. The code provisions allows the assessment of $100 against a property owner who fails to correct a code violation within one year:
Although “[t]he exceedingly strong presumption of constitutionality applies . . . to ordinances of municipalities[,] . . . [that] presumption is rebuttable” …, and we conclude that petitioners have rebutted the presumption of constitutionality.
A determination whether the CMF is a fee or a fine imposed as a penalty is critical to our analysis because “[p]rocedural due process rights do not apply to legislation of general applicability,” and thus the imposition of fees such as licensing fees are “not subject to attack on grounds of procedural due process. Fines [that are imposed as a penalty], however, can implicate procedural due process rights” … . * * *
Having concluded that the CMF is a fine imposed as a penalty on the property owner, we must determine whether the ordinance provides property owners with due process of law. As the Court of Appeals wrote in Morgenthau v Citisource, Inc. (68 NY2d 211), “[w]e have long recognized that due process is a flexible constitutional concept calling for such procedural protections as a particular situation may demand' . . . [,] and in determining whether [f]ederal due process standards have been met, we look to the three distinct factors that form the balancing test enunciated by the Supreme Court in Mathews v Eldridge (424 US 319, 335): First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and finally, the Government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail' ” (id. at 221).
While we agree with the court that the private interest at stake, i.e., $100, “is relatively insubstantial,” we conclude that there is a significant risk of erroneous deprivation of that interest through the procedures established by the ordinance. * * *
Although ” [d]ue process does not, of course, require that the defendant in every civil case actually have a hearing on the merits' ” …, we conclude that due process requires some type of hearing at which the City should be required to establish that property owners did not abate the violation within the one-year period. Matter of D'Alessandro v Kirkmire, 2015 NY Slip Op 01018, 4th Dept 2-6-15