Is County Required to Pay False Alarm Late Fines?
A recent case involving false alarm fees was heard and decided in Suffolk County, New York.
The plaintiff, Suffolk County, sought to recover $800 from the defendants for alleged violations of the county code involving “false alarm fee assessments.” The statute allows the county to assess fees for violation of its provisions and establishes an administrative mechanism that allows the operators of alarm systems to request that the police commissioner reconsider, via correspondence only, any fine within 30 days of mail receipt of said fee demand.
The statute provides that an alarm owner shall be given written notice by the police department of any fees chargeable by the department for false alarms. An alarm owner shall pay all demanded fees within 30 calendar days of the date of the notice unless an alarm owner requests an appeal. Failure of an alarm owner to pay a false alarm fee when due shall result in a late fee in the amount of $25 and $50 for amounts due and owing past 60 days.
The county code defines a false alarm as an alarm signal activated by causes or events other than the commission or attempted commission of an unlawful act or emergency which the alarm system is designed to detect. An alarm signal activated by violent or unusual conditions of nature or other extraordinary circumstances not subject to the control of the alarm owner shall not constitute a false alarm.
Any person or entity that receives notice of false alarm fees or any other fines or fees due under this article may appeal such fines or fees by filing a notice of appeal in such form as provided by the department, with the commissioner, within 30 days of receipt of the notice.
In this case, the county admitted into evidence an “Outstanding Invoice Summary” and a demand for payment of $800.00, referencing three false alarms, but did not reference the individual, only the company. The individual defendant raised the following defenses: 1. that the defendant is not individually liable, as the business which maintains the false alarm system is a formal corporation; 2. the subject alarms were generated by real, not false alarms; 3. the defendants did not “receive” the predicate fee assessments; and 4. the county has not proven the defendant received a fee assessment.
The court, in reviewing the case, pointed out that the county must prove that false alarm activations were reported to the county police department; that the defendant was assessed fees under Code Sec. 290-9 and was given and received mail notice from the police department of said assessments; that the county provided the administrative request form; and that the defendant did not timely request an administrative review by the police commissioner.
The defendant testified that he never received the actual fee assessment and the documents he did receive did not advise of the appeal process. The court pointed out that the statute made it clear that defendant’s time to request administrative review runs for 30 days after the “receipt” of the fee assessment. As such, the action was premature as the county did not prove the “actual date” the defendant received the assessment.
Therefore the county’s complaint was dismissed.