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Ohio: Photo Tickets Issued to Leased Cars Ruled Invalid
Ohio Court of Appeals invalidates photo tickets issued to the drivers of leased vehicles in Cleveland.

Blake A. Dickson
The Eighth District Ohio Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision last week that red light camera and speed camera tickets could not be issued to the drivers of leased vehicles in the city of Cleveland. The dispute arose after a pair of speed camera tickets were mailed to the Dickson and Campbell law firm in January 2007. Attorney Blake A. Dickson noticed that under Cleveland's ticketing ordinance, only the registered owner of a vehicle could be held liable for an automated ticket. He then appealed the $100 fines before the Cleveland Parking Violations Bureau, arguing that his law firm leased the car from VW Credit Leasing, the registered owner.

"OK. Well, we are going to go after the [lessee] then, sir," the hearing officer said as he declared the firm guilty.

Dickson appealed the decision to the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, which immediately rejected the argument as a clever trick designed to deprive Cleveland of millions in revenue.

"Appellant is attempting to avoid the inevitable with an argument based on semantics," the court ruled. "If this court were to follow appellant's reasoning, then every driver of a leased car would be free from liability of speed traffic offenses simply because they do not 'own' the vehicle. Therefore the court finds the [Parking] Violations Bureau's decision to be supported by reliable, probative, and substantial evidence and is in accordance with law as appellant had the care, custody, and control of the vehicle in question at the time of each violation."

The court of appeals noted that both the hearing officer and lower court judge accepted that Dickson and Campbell was the lessee and not the registered owner of the vehicle. State vehicle title records listed VW Credit Leasing as the sole owner. The appeals court put the blame on Cleveland for failing to write its ordinance properly.

"It is not difficult to decipher the difference between 'owner' of a vehicle and 'lessee' of a vehicle," Judge Melody J. Stewart wrote for the majority. "If the City of Cleveland had intended to hold lessees liable under CCO 413.031, it would have included them in the ordinance as other municipalities have."

An older Cleveland ordinance specifically holds those leasing vehicles responsible for parking tickets. The appeals court concluded that the city would have to abide by the rules it wrote and cancel the automated ticket issued to the law firm.

"The common pleas court's reasoning that drivers can escape liability by leasing vehicles is inaccurate," Judge Stewart wrote. "Every driver of a leased vehicle can still be liable for speeding and running a red light through traditional means, namely, being cited by a police officer for doing so... Dickson and Campbell cannot be liable for the speeding infractions since they were the lessee of the vehicle and not the owner."

A copy of the decision is available in a PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Dickson and Campbell v. Cleveland (Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth Appellate District, 2/19/2009)

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