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Lowicki v. State

Superior Court of Delaware

August 5, 2019

STANLEY C. LOWICKI, Defendant-Below/Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff-Below/Appellee.

          Submitted: May 31, 2019

          On Appellant's Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas

          ORDER

          Abigail M. LeGrow, Judge.

         1. This is an appeal from a Court of Common Pleas decision dismissing for lack of jurisdiction an appeal from a Justice of the Peace Court ("JP Court") decision regarding a red light traffic camera citation. Title 21, Section 4101 provides a right to appeal traffic camera violations if the civil penalty imposed exceeds $100. The court below concluded the civil penalty against the Defendant-below/Appellant did not exceed that threshold, and the court therefore lacked jurisdiction to consider the appeal. For the reasons that follow, I agree with the Court of Common Pleas that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the appeal, and I therefore affirm the decision below.

         Factual Background

         2. On May 18, 2017, a car Stanley C. Lowicki owned was captured by a traffic camera disobeying a red light on Route 72 at Kenmore Drive. Mr. Lowicki was issued a civil traffic violation under 21 Del. C. § 4101. He contested the violation in accordance with the statute, and a hearing was held in JP Court in August 2017. At the hearing, Mr. Lowicki contended he was not driving the vehicle at the time of the offense and therefore was not liable. At the conclusion of the hearing, the JP Court found Mr. Lowicki responsible for the violation and ordered him to pay $172.50, consisting of the following amounts:

Fine Amount:

$75.00

Court Costs:

$25.00

Court Security Fee:

$10.00

Transportation Trust Fund:

$37.50

State Police Fund:

$7.50

Local Law Enforcement Fund:

$7.50

Ambulance Fund:

$10.00

         3. Mr. Lowicki appealed the JP Court's decision to the Court of Common Pleas.[1] After full briefing, the Court of Common Pleas dismissed the appeal, holding that under 21 Del. C. § 4101(d)(12), a person found responsible under that Section only may appeal if the "civil penalty" imposed exceeds $100. The Court of Common Pleas held the civil penalty imposed by the JP Court did not exceed that threshold, reasoning that court costs and other amounts imposed by the JP Court did not fall within the plain meaning of "civil penalty" under the statute.[2]

         4. Mr. Lowicki then appealed that ruling to this Court. On appeal, Mr. Lowicki raises three arguments: (1) the Court of Common Pleas erred in its interpretation of the meaning of "civil penalty" within 21 Del. C. § 4101(d)(12); (2) the JP Court erred in assessing amounts not permitted by the statute; and (3) the JP Court erred in not granting dismissal in Mr. Lowicki's favor after he "undisputedly" rebutted the statutory presumption that the owner of a vehicle found in violation is liable for the violation.

         5. In response, the State contends the lower court correctly interpreted 21 Del. C. § 4101(d)(12) when it dismissed Mr. Lowicki's appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The State argues "the civil penalty that must exceed $100 refers only to the fine at issue and does not include any costs and surcharges imposed."[3] The State contends that because Mr. Lowicki's fine only was $75, it did not meet the $100 threshold and the Court of Common Pleas lacked jurisdiction over the appeal.

         6. On April 17, 2019, the Court requested that the State submit supplemental briefing addressing whether the amounts Mr. Lowicki was required to pay for the various "funds" were authorized by 21 Del. C. § 4101(d)(3) and, if they were not so authorized, whether those amounts necessarily constituted a "civil penalty" under 21 Del. C. § 4101(d)(12).[4] The State filed its response on May 7, 2019. The State contends the amounts for the Transportation Trust Fund, State Police Fund, Local Law Enforcement Fund, and Ambulance Fund were authorized under 21 Del. C. § 4101(d)(3) through later-enacted legislation and a 2010 JP Court policy directive.[5] The State also argues the "fund" amounts do not constitute a "civil penalty" under 21 Del. C. § 4101(d)(12). The State cites the legislative history of 21 Del. C. § 4101(d)(12) and Santillo v. State[6] to support this contention. The State also argues that Mr. Lowicki did not raise, and therefore waived, the issue of whether the "fund" amounts constitute a civil penalty under 21 Del. C. § 4101(d)(12).

         7. Mr. Lowicki filed a response on May 30, 2019. He argues the "fund" amounts are not authorized by 21 Del. C. § 4101(d)(3), and the later-enacted legislation cited by the State is not applicable because Title 11 is for criminal offenses, and a violation under 21 Del. C. § 4101(d)(3) is not a criminal offense. Mr. Lowicki also points out that the use of the words "fine" and "penalty" in those provisions does not comport with the term "assessment" used in 21 Del. C. § 4101(d)(3). If the Court finds the "fund" amounts are authorized, however, Mr. Lowicki contends they should be considered part of the civil penalty for appeal purposes.

         Analysis

         8. In considering an appeal from a Court of Common Pleas decision, this Court's role is to review questions of law, such as statutory interpretation and decisions regarding jurisdiction, de novo.[7] Mr. Lowicki's appeal of the lower court's decision regarding jurisdiction requires interpretation of 21 Del. C. ยง 4101(d)(12), which defines the scope of the appellate right for persons found responsible for a traffic camera violation. There is a right to appeal only when the "civil penalty imposed exceeds $100." The statute goes on to state that "[a]dditional penalty assessments" for late payment or response imposed ...


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