New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MORRIS v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-015-069, Claim No. 111560, Motion No. M-71020


Court of claims lacks jurisdiction to decide constitutionality of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 503(4) imposing financial assessment upon driver convicted of moving offense(s) resulting in the imposition of 6 or more points within 18 months. Determination that MV's actions were illegal or void requires Art. 78 proceeding. Claimant failed to prove hie was entitled to special notice of the law.

Case Information

Claimant short name:
Footnote (claimant name) :

Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
Motion number(s):
Cross-motion number(s):

Claimant’s attorney:
Larry B. Morris, Pro Se
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Michael C. Rizzo, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
March 9, 2006
Saratoga Springs

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)


Defendant's motion to dismiss the instant claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is granted. The claim filed on October 28, 2005 seeks to recover $300.00 paid pursuant to the driver responsibility assessment established in Vehicle and Traffic Law § 503 (4) which directs the imposition of an assessment whenever a driver accumulates six or more points on his/her driving record within an 18 month period. The claim alleges that as a member of the public claimant was entitled to receive reasonable notice of the enactment of the law which created the driver responsibility assessment program. It further alleges that the assessment imposed by the statute is an excessive, arbitrary and capricious fine in violation of provisions of the United States Constitution and the New York State Constitution which prohibit excessive fines and penalties.

The defendant moved to dismiss the claim on the ground that the Court of Claims lacks subject matter jurisdiction since the claimant could recover monies paid pursuant to the statute only if a court of competent jurisdiction were to declare that Vehicle and Traffic Law § 503 (4) is unconstitutional. Claimant opposed the motion by affidavit[1] in which he denied that his claim has a constitutional basis and asserted that he seeks recovery for an intentional tort. He further alleges that the State's failure "to provide notice of the change of law denied claimant the right to provide a defense against the original alleged traffic violation, and thereby committed a tortuous [sic] conversion against the claimant."

Section 503 (4) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law (V&TL) provides:
4. Driver responsibility assessment. (a) Any person who accumulates six or more points on his or her driving record for acts committed within an eighteen month period shall become liable to the department for payment of a driver responsibility assessment as provided in this subdivision.

(b) The amount of the driver responsibility assessment under this section shall be one hundred dollars per year for a three-year period for the first six points on a driver's record and an additional twenty-five dollars per year for each additional point on such driver's record.

(c) Upon receipt of evidence that a person is liable for the driver responsibility assessment required by this subdivision, the commissioner shall notify such person by first class mail to the address of such person on file with the department or at the current address provided by the United States postal service of the amount of such assessment, the time and manner of making required payments, and that failure to make payment shall result in the suspension of his or her driver's license or privilege of obtaining a driver's license.

(d) If a person shall fail to pay any driver responsibility assessment as provided in this subdivision, the commissioner shall suspend such person's driver's license or privilege of obtaining a license. Such suspension shall remain in effect until any and all outstanding driver responsibility assessments have been paid in full.

(e) Any completion of a motor vehicle accident prevention course approved pursuant to article twelve-B of this chapter shall not serve to reduce the calculation of points on a person's driving record for the purposes of this section.

The above quoted statutory language requires imposition of the driver responsibility assessment by the Commissioner and the claimant herein does not contest that he accumulated six or more points within an eighteen month period (see Giambra v Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, 59 AD2d 648). Where a statute imposes a duty to act upon the Commissioner "there can be no civil liability to individuals who are harmed by the [action] at least without any proof of negligence on the part of a State employee who failed to follow appropriate procedures (Kenny v State of New York, 137 AD2d 498)" (Porter v State of New York, Ct Cl, June 1, 2004 [Claim No. 107972, Motion No. M-68017, UID # 2004-032-033] Hard, J., unreported). No proof of negligence has been offered here.

In this case claimant's recovery is dependent upon a determination that the action of the Department of Motor Vehicles in imposing and collecting the statutorily mandated assessment was illegal and void. As such, any monetary recovery would necessarily be incidental to a determination that the assessment was improperly imposed. That determination would be in the nature of certiorari to review the Department's action, relief which is available only in a properly commenced article 78 proceeding in Supreme Court (see Heron v Division of Taxation of Dept. of Taxation and Fin. of State of New York, 209 AD2d 989, lv denied 85 NY2d 809; see Harvard Fin. Servs. v State of New York, 266 AD2d 685).

To the extent that the claim seeks a declaratory judgment determining the constitutionality of the statute (suggested by the language of the claim but denied in claimant's opposing affirmation) "the Court of Claims does not have jurisdiction over challenges to the constitutionality of statutes, even if such determination is necessary to resolve a claim for money damages against the State (Matter of Markham v Comstock, 272 AD2d 971, lv dismissed 95 NY2d 886, cert denied 531 US 1079; Shields v Katz, 143 AD2d 743; Zimmerman v State of New York, 116 Misc 2d 521)" (Cardew v State of New York, Ct Cl, June 21, 2005 [Claim No. 109968, Motion No. M-69332, UID # 2005-028-535] Sise, P.J., unreported; see also Van Allen v State of New York, Ct Cl, February 23, 2005 [Claim No. 106847, Motion No. M-69159, UID # 2005-032-015] Hard, J., unreported).

Finally, the Court is not persuaded by claimant's argument that he was somehow entitled to notice of the passage of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 503 (4) prior to entry of a plea on a speeding charge. It is a legal maxim that "[e]veryone is presumed to know the law" (People v Klock, 55 Misc 46, 50). In addressing this maxim the Court of Appeals in Knowles v City of New York, (176 NY 430 at 438-439) stated: "[e]very one of sense knows that this presumption is not in strict accordance with the fact; that no one can know all the law, and that some apparently know almost no law. The presumption, however, obtains because it is necessary that it should obtain for government to exist, otherwise the greatest ignorance would confer the greatest license." Claimant has not demonstrated in response to the motion that he was somehow entitled to special notice of the enactment of Vehicle and Traffic Law § 503 (4) and no duty on the part of the State to provide such notice has been demonstrated.

The defendant's motion is granted and the claim is hereby dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

March 9, 2006
Saratoga Springs, New York

Judge of the Court of Claims

The Court considered the following papers:
  1. Notice of motion dated December 5, 2005;
  2. Affidavit of Michael C. Rizzo sworn to December 5, 2005 with exhibit.
  3. "Affirmation" of L. Blake Morris dated December 30, 2005

[1].The document contains only a notary public's signature and stamp and is, therefore not in affidavit form. However, L. Blake Morris is listed in the 2006 New York Lawyer's Diary and Manual's New York Bar Directory as an attorney and the document will as a result be deemed an affirmation pursuant to CPLR 2106.