Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Latest Salvo in the Great Penny Fine-Payment War

"You know what will be great," the civil fine-burdened man thinks to himself, "I'll just pay the whole thing in pennies. That will really show them."

Jokes about paying fines in change have existed since coins were invented, apparently, but most of us don't follow through on the threat because most of us are adults capable of understanding that dumping a bunch of pennies on a civil servant's desk is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Still, some of us try to make a statement in copper-plated coins and need to be reminded that no, they don't have to take your pennies.

Roll Fines!

Brian McGonegal, that incorrigible rebel, owes the city of Jackson, Michigan $270 for trash in his yard. McGonegal attempted to pay the fine in a series of $27 payments comprised of 2,700 pennies. Randy Wrozek, the Jackson city treasurer, was not amused. "It's not practical," Wrozek told the AP. "This guy would come in every time at five minutes to five -- we close at five -- with a big sack full of change. We're not authorized for overtime down here."

Oh-ho-ho! What a dastardly plot! McGonegal wasn't just sticking it to the man by making them count the pennies, but they'd have to stay late at work, too. "I decided I would be just penny ante as they were," McGonegal told the Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Only his Swiss watch of a plan didn't quite come off. After exchanging cash for pennies at a credit union, unrolling them, dropping them into cash bags, and attempting to drop them off on the treasurer, only to be turned away. "It was foolish," Wrozek said. "We tried to accommodate him, but he said, 'Nope, you're counting these right now." Wrozek told McGonegal they needed to be rolled or the city could charge him the cost of getting them rolled.

"It's Not Our Job to Count His Money"

That's what Wrozek said, and it's the truth. The treasurer checked with City Attorney Bethany Vujnov and confirmed the city is not legally obligated to accept pennies as payment. Yes, the pennies are legal tender, but there is "no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as for payment for goods and/or services."

As it turns out, McGonegal has been waging his war since last year, making 11 trips to City Hall in August and even pleading his case at a City Council meeting in May. "This city is so full of themselves about, 'Well, we have to have everything picture perfect and it's got to look like an ideal little community that we're going to make you pay,'" McGonegal told the Citizen Patriot. While he considers his refuse bill paid, the city says debt will be sent to Jackson County and attached as a lien on his property.

"They'll be on me," McGonegal asserted after his penny plot was foiled. "They'll look for any scrap piece of paper. If they think the paint is weathered just a little bit too much on my building, they'll be all over me. Like white on rice," he said. "Get over yourself."

Wise words for someone accruing interest on a debt that could already be settled, but for his compulsion to prove a point with pennies.

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