10/10/2017Texas Appeals Court Slaps Down Redflex In Class Action Suit
Red light camera company cannot claim free speech to get out of fraud charges in Texas, the state Court of Appeals ruled.
A Louisiana motorist who received a $75 red light camera ticket in the mail from a Texas town while he was 200 miles away will now be allowed to proceed with a $130 million class action lawsuit. James H. Watson is charging Redflex Traffic Systems, Southlake's red light camera vendor, with fraud. The Texas Court of Appeals on Thursday smacked down the attempt of the Australian firm to dismiss the suit on free speech grounds.
Redflex lawyers cited a law designed to prevent powerful companies from using the threat of a lawsuit to chill public debate in asking a judge to throw out the case. The anti-SLAPP law seeks to prevent "strategic lawsuits against public participation" by giving citizens a chance to have such lawsuits dismissed at an early stage, avoiding extremely expensive legal bills.
The Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals already rejected the argument, as did a Tarrant County district court judge. On appeal in state court last week, a three-judge state panel was not impressed with Redflex repeating the arguments that the federal panel had already rejected. The legal argument came down to whether the Redflex "speech" that was suppressed was commercial in nature or not. The judges unanimously held it was.
"But for the sale of Redflex's services to the city of Southlake, services that included sending notices of violation to the owners of vehicles Redflex's cameras captured running a red light, Redflex would not have sent the notice of violation to Watson," Justice Lee Gabriel wrote for the Texas appellate panel. "And, of course, in exchange for the services it provided to the city, Redflex was entitled to receive compensation, namely, a percentage of the fines people paid after receiving a notice of violation from Redflex."
Because the anti-SLAPP law was meant to protect private citizens, the statute excludes any attempts to protect commercial speech. The court gave no credit to any of the arguments presented by Redflex, but the judges expressed no opinion on the underlying merits of the lawsuit.
"Redflex's attempt to keep from having to answer for its ongoing criminal enterprise in the state of Texas was soundly rejected by the Fort Worth Court of Appeals," Watson's attorney, Russell J. Bowman told TheNewspaper.
Bowman's lawsuit essentially charges Redflex and the city of Southlake with fraud. The ticket that Watson received in the mail claimed that failure to pay the $75 ticket would be reported to a collection agency -- something that is expressly prohibited under Texas law. The suit also charges Redflex with violating the Texas private investigator's statute, an opinion shared by Arizona's attorney general (read opinion).
Bowman will now have a chance to present his arguments in full as the case returns to the trial court.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 320k PDF file at the source link below.