2/5/2014New Mexico: Federal Lawsuit Challenges Red Light Camera Robocalls
Albuquerque, New Mexico red light camera ticket collection scheme faces $75 million federal lawsuit.
In many states, red light camera and speed camera tickets are treated as civil infractions that do not carry the same penalties for non-payment as a moving violation. As a result, the companies that mail the citations rely on credit collection firms to convince vehicle owners to pay up. A new class action lawsuit says the collection practices in Albuquerque, New Mexico violate federal law.
Residents of Albuquerque voted to kick Redflex Traffic Systems out of the city in 2011, but city officials decided to give permission to Redflex to generate up to $20 million by collecting unpaid tickets that had been mailed to 89,000 individuals up to a decade ago.
"The statute of limitations does not apply," the city asserts on its website. "The city of Albuquerque is required to collect the unpaid fines no matter when the driver or owner of the car got the ticket. You are required by law to pay, and the city is required by law to collect."
Redflex hired Creditwatch to strongarm residents into paying up by placing automated phone calls to ticket recipients. David Willett received nineteen of these calls to his cell phone.
"This is a special offer from Redflex for David Willett," the recording said. "Creditwatch Services is calling for David Willett to discuss a potential civil citation file in your name, and a special offer to reduce the fines and penalties for the citation. If this is David Willett, please call us at 877-444-3343. Our hours are Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm and Saturday from 8:30am to 1:30pm local Albuquerque time. So call 877-444-3343."
Willett and another motorist, Amber Fosse, grew so annoyed at answering their phone to hear a pre-recorded message from the collections firm that they decided to file a lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of New Mexico. Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), it is unlawful to make a phone call using a prerecorded voice to a mobile phone without the "prior express consent" of the person called. Willett and Fosse never provided Redflex or Creditwatch with their cell phone numbers, much less did they consent to the calls.
"Redflex knew or should have known that Creditwatch Services was robocalling cellular telephone numbers without prior express consent of the called party in order to collect the alleged fines on its behalf," attorney Rob Treinen wrote in Willett and Fosse's complaint. "Redflex nevertheless reaped the benefits of Creditwatch's illegal robocalling practices by obtaining payments resulting from those robocalls."
The suit asks for $1500 in statutory damages from Redflex and Creditwatch for each violation of the TCPA, an amount that could cost the firms $75 million. Creditwatch has until February 18 to answer the complaint.