Opinion 89-63

This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.

FEES -- Exemption From (housing authority)
PUBLIC HOUSING AUTHORITIES -- Fees (exemption from court fees)

PUBLIC HOUSING LAW, §52(1): A municipal housing authority is exempt from the payment of court filing fees.

This is in reply to your inquiry asking whether a municipal housing authority is exempt from the payment of court fees when it is a litigant in Supreme Court, a County Court, the Civil Court of the City of New York or the City Courts outside of the City of New York.

Generally, governmental entities are not exempt from court filing fees unless a statute expressly so provides (see 1988 Opns St Comp No. 88-38, p 75; 1983 Opns St Comp No. 83-20, p 22; Civil Practice Law and Rules, §§8017; 8019[d]). Section 52(1) of the Public Housing Law provides that a municipal housing authority:

... shall be exempt from the payment of (a) any taxes or fees to the state or any subdivision thereof and (b) any fees to any subdivision thereof, except where it is provided by or pursuant to law that such officer or employee is personally entitled to such fees as compensation for services rendered or performed by him in his official capacity.

There is no statutory definition of the word "fee" for purposes of section 52 (see Public Housing Law, §2) nor are we aware of any judicial interpretation of the word as used in this section.

This Office has expressed the opinion that in the absence of any statutory or judicial definition, the word "fee" in section 52 should be given its commonly understood meaning (2 Opns St Comp, 1946, p 290; see also People v Brooklyn Garden Apartments, Inc., 283 NY 373, 381 [1940]). Therefore, we have construed the word to mean fees paid to public officers for services performed, such as statutory recording fees or sheriff fees (2 Opns St Comp, supra). We also have previously expressed the opinion that court filing fees are in the nature of the type of fees intended to be included within the exemption contained in section 52 (8 Opns St Comp, 1952, p 70; see 1982 Opns St Comp No. 82-318, p 405; see also 1975 Atty Gen [Inf Opns] 44). In this regard, we note that these fees are not paid to an officer or employee as compensation for services rendered in his or her official capacity and, therefore, are not within the exception contained in subparagraph b of subdivision 1 of section 52.

There have been no subsequent statutory amendments or judicial decisions which would cause us now to reach a contrary conclusion with respect to court filing fees. Therefore, it is the opinion of this Office that pursuant to section 52 of the Public Housing Law, municipal housing authorities are exempt from court fees.

January 22, 1990
Michael Colodner, Esq., Counsel
Office of Court Administration