Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is filing a lawsuit against the Bloomberg Administration this morning for failing to turn over data on ever-increasing small business fines. The lawsuit cites City agencies for failing to turn over records to the Public Advocate on which violations and policies have driven the increase in fine-based revenue, and which neighborhoods are bearing the brunt of enforcement. Budget revenue from fines has nearly doubled over the past decade to $850 million, even as small businesses struggle to keep afloat. Of six City agencies contacted on May 8th by the Public Advocate about fines, none have provided the requested information. De Blasio filed suit under Section 24 of the City Charter, which grants the Public Advocate “timely access to those records… necessary to complete investigations, inquiries, and reviews.”
“Fines have been increasing for so long it’s become de facto City policy. We need answers about what this ‘fine-first, ask questions later’ enforcement is doing to our small businesses and their ability to survive in this economy,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “This is not an Administration that willingly hands over information that contradicts its press releases. It is time to end the stonewalling and open up the books on small business fines.”
“These fines have gotten out of control. This isn’t about enforcing laws anymore, it’s about raising money by ticketing for anything and everything. The Public Advocate is right to investigate what’s behind all these fines so we can take some of the burden off small businesses,” said Nick Lugo, President of the New York City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
De Blasio sent information requests to the Departments of Consumer Affairs, Health, Transportation, Buildings, Finance and Sanitation following his issuance of a Red Tape Report in April that investigated egregious fines levied on small businesses. He called on agencies to release a full breakdown of fines issued based on type of business, category of violation and neighborhood. De Blasio also requested department policies regarding enforcement patterns and revenue quotas. Agencies have failed to fulfill these requests.
The Public Advocate will be represented in the suit by Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP. Previous court rulings such as Green v. Safir have affirmed the legal authority of the Public Advocate to access City records being withheld.
You can download a copy of the court papers here -- Article 78 Petition (.pdf) and Legal Brief (.pdf) -- or read more about the litigation at: http://advocate.nyc.gov/fines