11/28/2011Maryland Court: No Redress When City Violates Speed Camera Law
Maryland Court of Special Appeals rejects private suit against jurisdictions operating speed cameras with a per ticket compensation contract.
Maryland state law prohibits municipalities from paying contractors to operate speed camera and red light cameras on a per-ticket basis. In an October 27 ruling, the Court of Special Appeals found that localities are free to ignore this legal requirement.
A group of motorists in 2008 filed a class action lawsuit against Montgomery County, the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, and Chevy Chase Village because each paid Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) $16.25 for each ticket the company issued, in violation of the statute.
"If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of Montgomery County, the contractor's fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid," state code section 21-809 states.
According to the county's original contract, ACS was to "install and support all traffic camera equipment" and "supply an automated violation processing services solution that is capable of supporting high volume program operations." Montgomery County was first given authorization to use cameras over the veto of then-Governor Robert L. Ehrlich (R) in 2006 and the grant was later expanded to all other jurisdictions in 2009. The motorists argued they have the right as private citizens to pursue a claim against the state government to remedy an illegal act. The General Assembly took no action to bar such suits. The appellate court insisted the legislature only allows fighting a ticket in a lower court and that broader challenges taken to a circuit court are not allowed.
"Although appellants argue that it is impractical to bring an action challenging the propriety of a contingency fee in the district court, we see no other way to interpret the plain language of this provision -- appellants are permitted to raise any defense in the district court regarding the legality of the citation," Shirley M. Watts wrote. "Appellants, therefore, had the opportunity -- which they failed to exercise --to challenge in the district court the speed citations they received, presenting the argument that the contracts between appellees and ACS were unlawful."
Prince George's County district court judges have already stated that they will not consider evidence that a driver is innocent of a speed camera accusation at trial. On September 4, 2008, Montgomery County changed the wording of its contract to state: "Contractor provides vehicles and equipment, but does not operate the speed monitoring system." The appellate court accepted this as sufficient, even though there is no difference in the way the system is operated.
"We are aware of appellants' insistence that the amendments to the contracts between appellees and ACS do not resolve the contention that ACS is an operator of the speed cameras," Watts wrote. "We discern, however, no basis to look beyond the plain, unambiguous language of the contracts, which specifically provides that appellees and not ACS are operators of the speed cameras in Montgomery County."
A copy of the decision is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.