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People Ex Rel. v. City of Springfield





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. SAMUEL O. SMITH, Judge, presiding.


This is an appeal by the members of the board of trustees of the police pension fund of the city of Springfield, plaintiffs, from the judgment of the circuit court of Sangamon County which dismissed their petition for writ of mandamus. In this petition plaintiffs sought to compel the city, its mayor, commissioners and treasurer, defendants, to pay into the police pension fund, commencing March 1, 1958, the following: (1) 10 per cent of all money collected from persons charged with violating traffic ordinances of the city and paid by such persons to avoid prosecution, (2) 10 per cent of all revenue collected from permits authorizing persons to engage in any activity which is illegal without payment of a fee, and (3) 10 per cent of all revenue collected by means of parking meters for the privilege of parking in designated spaces upon the public streets in the city for limited periods of time.

The facts were undisputed and judgment was entered on the pleadings, which consisted of the amended petition for writ of mandamus, defendants' answer, and plaintiffs' motion to strike the answer and for judgment upon the pleadings. The trial judge certified that the validity of a municipal ordinance is involved and that the public interest required a direct appeal to this court.

The subject matter of this case was before us in Horney v. City of Springfield, 12 Ill.2d 427, where we held that the plaintiffs were not entitled to an accounting of such funds for past years since they had acquiesced in the procedure followed by the city in levying the maximum tax rate for the years in question and had neglected to assert their claims. Consequently, we did not reach the issues here presented. The plaintiffs have now complied with the pertinent statutes and have demanded that the city pay to them 10 per cent of the moneys above enumerated and defendants have refused to do so.

The material provisions of section 1 of the Police Pension Fund Act are: "* * * All moneys derived from the taxes levied hereunder and the following moneys shall be set apart by the treasurer of such city, village or incorporated town to constitute the police pension fund: * * * 3. 10% of all fines collected for violation of city ordinances. * * * 7. 10% of all revenue collected from licenses by such city, village or incorporated town not heretofore mentioned in this Act." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1957, chap. 24, par. 892.

Section II of the act grants to the board of trustees the exclusive control and management of the police pension fund and provides that all moneys due thereto shall be placed by the treasurer of such city, village or town, to the credit of the fund, subject to the order of the board. Section 12 provides that the city treasurer and other city officials who have had the custody or possession of any such pension funds shall make a sworn statement to the board of trustees of such fund, and to the mayor and council of such city, of all moneys received and paid out on account of the pension fund during the year, and of the amount of such funds then on hand and owing to such fund. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1957, chap. 24, pars. 902 and 903.

The challenged section of the municipal ordinance is:

"Sec. 30.167. Same — Receipts for payments; disposition of moneys received.

"Any police officer or city employee designated by the chief of police or commissioner of accounts and finances who shall receive the payment of any sum of money by a violator charged with violating this chapter shall issue to such person a receipt therefor, bearing his signature and the date of payment. A duplicate receipt, together with the money paid to such officer or other designated person, shall be delivered to the city treasurer and shall be by him credited to the corporate fund of the city."

Plaintiffs contend that "10% of all fines collected for violation of city ordinances," embraces all sums of money collected by the city from persons charged therewith, and that defendants cannot evade this statutory mandate by enacting an ordinance which permits violators to voluntarily pay a fine to designated city officials rather than through the judicial process.

Defendants urge that the words "fine" and "penalty" are not synonymous; that "fine" has a generally accepted and well defined legal meaning, which is a pecuniary punishment imposed by a lawful tribunal upon a person convicted of a crime or misdemeanor, whether in a criminal or civil action; and that the words, "ten per cent of all fines," do not include, nor was there any legislative intent to include voluntary payments made by a person to defendant city for an alleged violation of a city ordinance. Thus, they urge that a money penalty voluntarily paid to a city employee without judicial process for overparking, late payment of a water bill or return of an overdue library book is not a "fine" within the meaning of the act and plaintiffs are not entitled to 10 per cent of these moneys for the pension fund.

The parties litigant are in similar disagreement over the meaning of "revenue collected from licenses" and whether such collections include revenue from permits. Comparatively, the statutory language is old and the ordinances and procedures giving rise to the litigation are new. This presents the problem of applying the aged language of the act to the new and ever-changing conditions of society. While the parties ascribe a different concept or meaning to the words "fines," "penalties," "licenses," and "permits," this is more than a controversy over semantics. The function of the judicial process is to dig beneath words and concepts, and, through logic, history, custom, utility, and the standards of right conduct, or one or more of such forces, determine the nature and substance of litigation and the shape and progress of the law. See Selected Writings of Benjamin Cardozo, Nature of the Judicial Process.

One of the questions presented is whether the amounts paid, by persons notified of an alleged traffic violation, constitute "fines" within the meaning of that term as used in section 1 of the Police Pension Fund Act. In 15 Am. Jur., sec. 541, at page 182, it is stated: "The true signification of the word `fine' when used in a statute must depend somewhat on the context, and the meaning should be gathered from the intention if that can be fairly ascertained from the language used. In general, a fine is a sum of money exacted of a person guilty of an offense as a pecuniary punishment, the amount of which may be fixed by law or left to the discretion of the court. In certain connections the word `fine' has been held to be synonymous with `penalty'; but by the great majority of decisions it has been confined to its ordinary meaning."

In People v. Nedrow, 122 Ill. 363, we held that the words "fines and forfeitures" as used in the Fees and Salaries Act were broad enough to include the penalties referred to in the Pharmacy Act. However, the questions involved were not such as to cause this court to examine the ...

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