1/23/2018Ohio Court Of Appeals Sides With Motorists Against Cameras
New Miami, Ohio cannot escape refund of illegally issued speed camera tickets by claiming sovereign immunity, the Court of Appeals ruled.
The Ohio Court of Appeals on Monday delivered a heavy blow to New Miami's attempt to block a court-ordered refund of $3,066,523 in speed camera citations. The village insisted that the lower court (view ruling) got it wrong and that the village should not be forced to pay back any amount on the grounds of sovereign immunity. Not so, said the unanimous three-judge panel.
"While it is true that New Miami has the authority to enforce its traffic laws, it must do so in a constitutional manner," Judge Michael E. Powell wrote for the appellate court. "New Miami does not have the authority to do so in an unconstitutional manner."
The case has been going back and forth between the trial and appellate courts for nearly six years. The question before the court this time was a narrow one: Is ordering New Miami to pay back $3 million in tickets "restitution" or payment of "money damages" as compensation in a civil lawsuit?
New Miami insisted that the payment would be "money damages" because that would mean the village is off the hook for providing refunds because cities and towns cannot be sued for compensation. The court recited a number of past cases to draw out the distinction between restitution and compensation for money damages.
"A claim seeking to recover a specific amount of money wrongfully collected or held by a state agency is an equitable claim of restitution, and not a substitute for the loss occasioned by some prior injury," Judge Powell wrote.
Essentially, the village's argument was that paying any amount of money to ticket recipients would constitute payment of damages. The court explained that this was not the case because New Miami was never entitled to the money in the first place.
"The lack of due process afforded by the automated speed enforcement program was the basis for a declaration that the ordinance adopting the automated speed enforcement program was unconstitutional and unenforceable," Judge Powell wrote. "The allegations... are simply that the collection of the penalties under an unconstitutional ordinance is 'unconscionable' and that retention of the penalties unjustly enriches New Miami."
The case will now go back to the lower court for further proceedings. A copy of the ruling is available in a 75k PDF file at the source link below.