CHARLESTON – A man pulled over by a Gauley Bridge police officer won’t be allowed to pay his $150 ticket entirely with change.

The state Supreme Court ruled on May 24 that Thomas D. Thornburgh, Jr.’s plan to pay his ticket with coins presented a burden on the employees of the Town of Gauley Bridge.

Two justices – Chief Justice Brent Benjamin and Justice Robin Davis – dissented from the majority.

“Respondent never claimed that the coins were not legal tender; rather, respondent had a reasonable ordinance to prevent unduly burdening its employees with the task of counting coins,” the memorandum decision says.

“We agree with the (Fayette County Circuit Court’s) conclusion that respondent enjoys statutory immunity from suit.”

The issue began in November 2009, when Thornburgh was pulled over by a Gauley Bridge police officer, was issued a traffic citation and was fined $150.

The next month, a City Hall employee refused Thornburgh’s payment, which he attempted to make entirely in change. The employee told Thornburgh the Town has an ordinance that prohibits payment in coins for amounts greater than $5.

Thornburgh filed a lawsuit, alleging that he suffered humiliation, loss of privilege to drive on West Virginia roads and annoyance and inconvenience.

The Town filed a motion to impose sanctions and a motion to dismiss the case. The motion to dismiss was granted.

The Fayette County court found that Gauley Bridge had immunity from the lawsuit under a subsection of state code that says, “A political subdivision is immune from liability if a loss or claim results from: …(4)Adoption or failure to adopt a law, including, but not limited to, any statute, charter provision, ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation or written policy…”

Thornburgh claimed an exception applied because the Town violated a federal law that says coins are legal tender.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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