10/2/2013Missouri Appeals Court Questions Whether Red Light Cameras Are A Revenue Grab
Missouri Court of Appeals rules that it is an open question whether red light cameras are unlawful.
The Missouri Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled that it is keeping an open mind on the question whether are an illegal cash grab, sending the issue back to be settled in a courtroom trial. The decision also gave automated ticketing opponents the power to compel documents regarding the photo enforcement program from American Traffic Solutions (ATS), which operates the devices on behalf of Creve Coeur.
The appellate panel last month reached a similar conclusion regarding the legality of cameras in Florissant, another St. Louis suburb (view decision). Although ATS issued press releases proclaiming both decisions as a win for the use of cameras as "legally sound," the court made clear that the issue is far from settled.
"The majority opinion neither holds that the ordinance at issue is in conflict with state law, nor is consistent with state law," Judge Kurt S. Odenwald wrote. "We do not address the issue of conflict between Creve Couer's ordinance and state law because that issue has not been raised at any time in this appeal by the parties."
A group of motorists represented by attorney Ryan A. Keane focused their challenge on three narrow points of law. The court sided with the camera company on two issues and with drivers on one. The majority held that a due process challenge to the red light camera ordinance itself is improper because a ticket can be challenged in municipal court. The majority also rejected arguments that the ordinance conflicts with state law requiring points be applied to driver's licenses for moving violations by reiterating the interpretation that red light camera tickets are not moving violations because they are issued to vehicles for being illegally present in an intersection. The drivers won on the point of whether the ordinance might be a thinly disguised tax.
"While Creve Coeur may possess broad authority to enact traffic-related ordinances under its police power, such power is not without limits," Judge Odenwald wrote. "The issue of whether Creve Coeur enacted the ordinance as a proper exercise of police power as opposed to an unlawful revenue-generating tax measure that falls outside of its police power authority is a fact question that is inappropriate for resolution on a motion to dismiss."
The appellate majority said proving the revenue motive will represent a "heavy burden" but that the plaintiffs in the suit deserved the opportunity to make their case in a court of law. Presiding Judge Lawrence E. Mooney filed a dissent blasting the majority for resorting to fiction to overlook what he saw as a clear conflict between the camera ordinance and state law.
"Creve Coeur has made a car's 'presence' in an intersection illegal and charges the registered vehicle owner with responsibility for that misdeed," Judge Mooney wrote. "Why might a city create such a novel offense? Perhaps the city did not wish to run afoul of the state statute that imposes liability for running a red light only on the driver, and not the car's registered owner. Maybe, the city realized that a normal red light offense is a moving violation, and it would have to report violations to the Director of Revenue for the assessment of points… Particularly when confronting matters of public safety, course should skeptically scrutinize manufactured legal fictions that may obscure the actual danger confronted. Fortunately, what fictions lawyers can construct, our Supreme Court can deconstruct."
Keane says he plans to appeal to the high court.
"We are pleased with the dissenting opinion," Keane told TheNewspaper. "Judge Mooney clearly understands the dangerous reality of red light cameras and the ulterior motives driving these camera systems. We're hopeful that the Missouri Supreme Court will agree to review this case and adopt Judge Mooney's dissent as the law of this state."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 500k PDF file at the source link below.