Editors’ Note: This item has been updated to reflect a Correction.
A $2,000 fine for picking up an abandoned air conditioning unit from the curb was “unconstitutionally excessive,” a Manhattan judge ruled in granting a man’s petition to annul the fine.
A sanitation officer issued the fine to Miguel Ruiz in October 2012, when Ruiz found the unit outside a residence and placed it in his car. Using a vehicle to take recyclable materials from curbs where they have been left for removal by the sanitation department is a violation of the city’s administrative code. Selling them deprives the city of potential revenue.
Ruiz, an unemployed handyman, admitted at a hearing before the city’s Environmental Control Board that he intended to resell the unit. An administrative law judge sustained the notice of violation and fine. Ruiz appealed, and the board upheld the fine again. Ruiz then went to the state court.
In a March 7 decision in Ruiz v. City of New York, 401783/13, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Alexander Hunter (See Profile) found that “the imposition of a mandatory $2,000 fine … is grossly disproportional to the offense charged.” The amount of recyclable material within the unit was “negligible,” Hunter wrote, and Ruiz harmed no one by taking it. For that reason, Hunter added, the fine is “shocking to fairness” and “arbitrary and capricious.”
Hunter’s decision echoed a similar ruling by the Appellate Division, First Department in May 2013 in Prince v. City of New York, 403135/11, where the panel vacated a $2,000 fine issued to a Brooklyn artist who took a TV antenna from a curbside trash pile (NYLJ, May 22, 2013).
Shortly afterward, the city lowered the fine to up to $1,000. But it still pursued the $2,000 fine since Ruiz’s notice of violation was issued before the change.
Ruiz was represented by Steven Wasserman of the Legal Aid Society, who also worked on the TV antenna case. Ilyse Sisolak, an attorney for the City Corporation Counsel’s office, represented the city.