9/2/2016Federal Appeals Court Upholds Suit Against Florida Cameras
In a highly technical ruling, US Court of Appeals rules Florida red light camera cities not immune from motorist lawsuits.
A class action lawsuit against against the seventy-two towns that have used red light cameras in Florida will now proceed after the Eleventh Circuit US Court of Appeals gave the green light on Wednesday. The suit seeks refunds for automated tickets issued in violation of state law, which requires screening of violations by police officers, not employees of private vendors like American Traffic Solutions (ATS).
The Florida Court of Appeal in 2014 declared the way automated citations are reviewed illegal in the case Hollywood v. Arem (view ruling). The Florida cities that use automated ticketing machines insist they are not liable for any unlawfully issued tickets because they have sovereign immunity.
The case went before the three-judge federal appellate panel, which did not weigh the merits of the way red light camera systems are operated. Instead, it considered the simple question of whether the municipalities are immune from being sued. The court examined relevant sections of Florida statutes and case law that grant public officials immunity from personal liability for their official actions to prevent a "chilling effect" on their decision-making ability. If a mayor had to pay out of his own pocket for every controversial decision, he would not make any controversial decisions.
A federal district court judge had already rejected the arguments offered by the municipalities, so under federal rules, the appellate court has limited jurisdiction to overturn the decision. ATS and the municipalities argued that various recent court decisions gave the appellate panel the power to intervene and block the motorists' lawsuit.
"This court, however, has interpreted Florida sovereign immunity law to provide only a defense to liability, rather than immunity from suit," Judge Julie E. Carnes wrote for the appellate panel. "Contrary to defendants' argument, there is no clear authority to suggest such a change has occurred in Florida law."
The camera vendors and municipalities did come away with one small victory. They were not sanctioned under the rules of federal procedure for filing a frivolous appeal.
"Even though we were not ultimately persuaded by that argument, we do not find it to be frivolous," Judge Carnes wrote. "Accordingly, we deny plaintiffs' request for sanctions under Rule 38."
A copy of the decision is available in a 70k PDF file at the source link below.