11/11/2010Federal Court Green Lights Anti-Camera Lawsuit
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals orders lower court to consider lawsuit against the Cleveland, Ohio traffic camera program.
A federal appellate court ruled Tuesday that a portion of a lawsuit against the red light camera and speed camera program in Cleveland, Ohio could proceed. Daniel McCarthy and Colleen Carroll argued that the city had unconstitutionally deprived them of their property after the Parking Violations Bureau fined them $100 when the municipal traffic camera ordinance did not give the city any authority to impose a fine on someone who leases his vehicle. A district court judge threw out the case, but the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found merit in the state law aspects of their argument.
Under Cleveland's photo enforcement ordinance, liability for the tickets is imposed on the registered owners of the vehicle. Neither McCarthy nor Carroll owned their respective vehicles, nor were they listed as the owners in state records. The city ticketed them anyway.
"Under the plain text of Cleveland's ordinance, plaintiffs were not liable for the tickets," Judge Samuel H. Mays, Jr wrote for the court.
The Ohio Court of Appeals ruled against Cleveland on this point in a separate case, and the city modified its ordinance to cover leased vehicles. McCarthy and Carroll want the city to refund every fine collected before the change was made because those takings lacked legal sanction.
The Sixth Circuit did not believe that this issue was appropriate for federal court. It suggested that supreme court precedents tend to indicate that a Fifth Amendment "taking" would only occur if the city had seized the bank accounts of ticket recipients. The court found it premature to assert that they had been denied compensation for property taken if they had not first appealed their citation through the entire legal process and received a final decision -- even though the cost of the challenge would far exceed the price of the citation.
"Because the challenged ordinance does not seize or otherwise impair an identifiable fund of money, plaintiffs have failed to plead a cause of action under the Takings Clause," Mays wrote. "We therefore affirm the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' Section 1983 claim."
McCarthy and Carroll fared better with their claim that Cleveland took their property in violation of the Ohio Constitution's Takings Clause, which the state supreme court has ruled offers greater protections than the Fifth Amendment.
"The district court did not analyze Count I of plaintiffs' amended complaint, which asserted that Cleveland's enforcement of the traffic camera ordinance unjustly enriched the city," Mays ruled. "We, therefore, must reverse the judgment of the district court on these state law claims and remand this case for further proceedings."
A copy of the decision is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.