7/10/2012Florida Appeals Court Finds Early Camera Use Illegal
Red light cameras tickets issued before July 2010 were illegal, the Florida Court of Appeals ruled.
Orlando, Florida jumped the gun when it started using red light cameras without waiting for authorization from the state legislature. In December 2007, the city council voted to give Lasercraft, now American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the right to issue traffic tickets at intersections.
It was not until 2010 that the legislature gave in to a massive lobbying effort and granted statewide permission for the use of automated ticketing machines, effective July 1, 2010. On May 23, 2009, Lasercraft mailed Michael Udowychenko a ticket claiming he ran a red light. A city-paid hearing officer declared Udowychenko guilty and ordered him to pay $155. Udowychenko hired attorney Jason D. Weisser to challenge the ruling in Orange County District Court as part of a class action suit. Judge Frederick J. Lauten agreed the photo ticketing program violated the law while declining to certify the class action.
Facing the potential loss of millions should the precedent stand, Orlando appealed. The city and ATS attorneys argued that the red light cameras were just an additional means of enforcing the state's red light running statute, supplementing the law under home rule authority. Orlando was able to cite a divided Third District Court of Appeals panel's decision from late November upholding this line of reasoning (view ruling).
A unanimous Fifth Circuit panel on Friday expressly disagreed with their colleagues, citing the precedents of the Minnesota Supreme Court (view decision) and two Florida attorney general opinions (view opinion). In Florida as in Minnesota, state law insists that "no local authority shall enact or enforce any ordinance on a matter covered by this chapter unless expressly authorized." The Fifth Circuit found this provision prohibited the use of cameras in Orlando prior to 2010.
"The language in section 316.002 and section 316.007, where it specifically states the intent of the legislature for uniformity of the traffic laws throughout the state prohibiting any local government from enacting or enforcing local laws covered by or in conflict with chapter 316, clearly indicates the legislature's intent to expressly preempt to the state the enforcement of traffic signal violations except for the limited local regulation allowed by the law," Judge Jessica J. Recksiedler wrote. "The city's ordinance enforces traffic violations of a subject area that is covered and enforced by state law. This is the type of conduct that is expressly prohibited in the language of section 316.002 and section 316.008."
The Fifth Circuit found Orlando took the same conduct covered by the state red light running statute and imposed its own, entirely separate system that differed in several significant respects.
"At a minimum, the ordinance conflicts with state law because it provides for a notice of violation based solely on recorded images and not on the personal observation of a law or traffic enforcement officer, provides that an individual appointed by the city council who is not a judge determines the existence of the violation, allows for an adjudication based on proof less than beyond a reasonable doubt, imposes the penalty against the vehicle owner who may not have been the driver, imposes a fine different from that provided by state law, distributes the fines to the city and a private corporation and not as provided by state law, and imposes additional penalties not allowed by state law," Judge Recksiedler concluded. "Thus the trial court properly invalidated the ordinance based on preemption and conflict grounds."
A copy of the decision is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.