1/28/2014Ohio Appeals Court Green Lights Class Action Suit Over Photo Tickets
Traffic camera class action lawsuit by leased vehicle owners will proceed against Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo enforcement companies are in trouble in Ohio. A class action suit is proceeding to refund all speed camera tickets issued in Elmwood Place, and the state Supreme Court has repeatedly rebuffed the town's pleas to intervene. Last Thursday, the state's second highest court gave the green light for a class action suit against Cleveland's red light camera and speed camera program.
Janine Lycan sued in 2009 after she received a $100 ticket from Affiliated Computer Services (ACS, now Xerox) that insisted she was responsible for the citation because she was the vehicle owner. Lycan countered that she does not own the car, she leases it. Cleveland's ordinance did not contemplate that possibility. Recognizing the legal peril it was in, the city council changed the ordinance immediately after the suit was filed.
In 2010, a federal appeals court (view opinion) and two state appellate courts (view opinion), (view another opinion) sided with motorists against the camera ticketing program in Cleveland. In the present case, Cleveland is trying to avoid refunding tickets, claiming it does not need to pay back fines because they were paid and the doctrine of res judicata, which means the matter has been judged, apply. The appellate panel disagreed.
"Not only was there no judgment when fines were paid, but also, when a citation was not paid, no reduction to judgment occurred," Judge Sean C. Gallagher wrote for the court. "We question the city's ability to collect upon fines that have not been converted to civil judgments in accordance with a defendant's due process rights."
The court noted that few people would appeal the fine because the cost of doing so is $100, equal to the amount of the fine itself.
"For these reasons, we conclude fairness and justice would not support the application of res judicata in this case," Judge Gallagher wrote.
Without changing the ordinance, Cleveland officials decided to change the business rules for the photo ticketing program to include lessees in the definition of vehicle owners. The three-judge panel insisted a class action is best suited to resolving the matter.
"The trial court also found that a class action is the superior method to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy," Judge Gallagher concluded. "The superiority of the class action is evident... Upon our review, we find no abuse of discretion by the trial court in its certification of the class."
A copy of the decision is available in a 90k PDF file at the source link below.