6/15/2017Federal Appeals Court Blocks Transfer Of Anti-Camera Lawsuit
Eleventh Circuit US Court of Appeals rejects American Traffic Solutions attempt to transfer anti-red light camera lawsuit from state court.
In a significant blow to one of the red light camera industry's favorite legal tactics, the Eleventh Circuit US Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected the attempt of American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to relocate a class action lawsuit to a federal courtroom. ATS sought to prevent Alabama judges from hearing arguments against the use of local laws to authorize red light cameras on a city-by-city basis.
"Under generally applicable law, Alabama classifies running a red light as a criminal misdemeanor," Judge Ed Carnes wrote in explaining the plaintiff's case. "But in 2009, to accommodate Montgomery's program, the Alabama legislature enacted a law creating a new non-criminal category of state law called a civil violation. That category is the opposite of a generally applicable one because it applies only to red light violations detected by cameras within Montgomery's city limits."
The lawsuit charged that the creation of a special category that only applies in certain cities violates the state constitution. The three-judge appellate panel did not consider the merits of this contention. Instead, it only considered whether a federal or state judge should resolve the question.
Federal courts have proved to be a favorite venue for the photo ticketing industry. In 2011, for example, ATS took advantage of close personal connections with a federal judge to nullify the right of the people in Houston, Texas to vote on the issue of red light cameras. That decision, however, was later struck down by the Fifth Circuit (view ruling).
ATS uses the federal Class Action Fairness Act to transfer lawsuits out of state court. This federal law was designed to ensure cases with interstate implications are heard in a federal, not state, venue. The Alabama lawsuit, however, cannot be moved because the law does not consider a case to have true interstate implications when two-thirds of the people affected by the lawsuit are from the same state.
"We start and end with the home state exception," Judge Ed Carnes ruled. "The parties agree that two-thirds or more of the members of the proposed plaintiff classes are citizens of Alabama."
Because the lawsuit was filed against ATS and the city of Montgomery, the appellate panel also decided that Montgomery is the "primary defendant" for the purposes of the Class Action Fairness Act.
"The only request for monetary relief in the amended complaint is for a refund of all traffic fines collected in connection with the red light camera program," Judge Carnes wrote. "That monetary relief is sought from the city alone, not from [American] Traffic Solutions... That leaves the city as the only 'primary defendant' in this case, and the city is a citizen of Alabama."
The lawsuit will now continue in an Alabama courtroom. A copy of the decision is available in a 75k PDF file at the source link below.