Courts FAQ 3

Can a municipality impose an "administrative forfeiture" for violation of a municipal ordinance without action by a municipal court or circuit court?

Except for nonmoving traffic violations, no. Wis. Stat. sec. 66.0114(1) specifies that “[a]ll forfeitures and penalties imposed by an ordinance or bylaw of the city, village . . . except as provided in ss. 345.20 to 345.53, may be collected in an action in the name of the city or village before the municipal court or in an action in the name of the city, village . . . before a court of record [circuit court].” The provisions in secs. 345.20 to 345.53 provide for general procedures to collect forfeitures in traffic cases and Wis. Stat. sec. 345.28(2) specifically allows the imposition of such forfeitures for nonmoving (parking) violations without court involvement. Since Wis. Stat. 66.0114(1) identifies the method of collecting a municipal forfeiture and contains no specific authority for the use of a non-judicial procedure to collect such forfeitures other than parking violations, such procedure is not authorized.

Moreover, cities and villages with a municipal court have an additional limitation on “administrative forfeiture” procedures. Wisconsin Statute sec. 755.045(1) gives a municipal court exclusive jurisdiction, with some exceptions but none authorizing a non-judicial process, “over an action in which the municipality seeks to impose forfeitures for violations of municipal ordinances of the municipality that operates the court.” Thus, an administrative procedure to collect a forfeiture in a city or village with a municipal court would impermissibly usurp the municipal court’s jurisdiction.