11/6/2013Missouri Appeals Court Backtracks, Opposes Red Light Cameras
Second highest court in Missouri finds red light camera ordinances void and unenforceable.
In a stunning reversal, the Missouri Court of Appeals admitted that its past support of red light cameras was mistaken. Two years ago, an appellate panel that included Judge Robert G. Dowd, a relative of American Traffic Solutions lobbyist Edward Dowd, penned the Creve Coeur v. Nottebrok decision bestowing statewide legitimacy on the use of automated ticketing machines (view ruling). That view changed on Tuesday when the same court held the red light camera ordinance in Ellisville to be void and unenforceable. Update: The chief judge issued an order clarifying that Tuesday's ruling was reviewed by the full court, en banc.
"To the extent our holding conflicts with our opinion in Nottebrok, Nottebrok is overruled and no longer good law," the court ruled Tuesday. "We hold that the trial court erred in declaring that the [red light camera] ordinance does not conflict with Missouri law relating to the assessment of points for moving violations, and we reverse the trial court's judgment."
In Missouri, American Traffic Solutions used a slick lobbying campaign to convince local officials to install traffic cameras without the blessing of a statewide authorization statute. The model ordinance the Arizona-based company wrote for the cities made fines a civil offense carrying no points to avoid the hassle and expense of positively identifying the driver (this is required in states such as California where points are assessed for photo tickets). The cities and ATS insisted they had the right to do this under home rule powers, but St. Louis attorney Ryan A. Keane has insisted that home rule authority cannot trump the state law requiring points for all moving violations.
The court on Tuesday agreed with the city and ATS that the red light camera ordinance was a valid exercise of the city's police powers. The judges were not convinced that the city could escape the license points issue simply by declaring that the camera ticket was like a parking ticket issued for the automobile's non-moving presence in an intersection while the light was red.
"Here, a common-sense interpretation of the ordinance mandates a finding that the conduct regulated by Ellisville is not a fictional 'presence' in an intersection during a red light, but rather the actual movement of a vehicle through an intersection during the emission of a red light, commonly referred to as 'running a red light,'" the three-judge panel ruled. "However, despite its efforts, we remain unconvinced that the semantics employed by Ellisville and other Missouri municipalities with the term 'presence' successfully circumvents the legislative prohibition of Section 304.120.3."
The broad language applying the ruling to other municipalities will have an impact far beyond Ellisville, a city of less than 10,000 residents.
"Today's decision invalidates not only Ellisville's ordinance but also numerous red light camera ordinances throughout Missouri," Keane told TheNewspaper. "This decision and the Florissant decision issued in September (view ruling) clearly show that appellate judges in this state will not tolerate red light camera ordinances that run afoul of our state's laws. Ultimately, the combined result of the Ellisville and Florissant decisions might actually mean that we are finally witnessing the beginning of the end for unlawful and unscrupulous red light camera systems in Missouri."
A copy of the decision is available in a 500k PDF file at the source link below.