By on November 11, 2011

Automated ticketing vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) filed suit Tuesday against Knoxville, Tennessee for its failure to issue tickets for turning right on a red light — and that is costing the company a lot of money. A state law took effect in July banning the controversial turning tickets, but the Arizona-based firm contends the law should not apply to their legal agreement with the city, which anticipated the bulk of the money to come from this type of tickets.

Municipalities were disappointed in August when Attorney General Robert J. Cooper Jr shot down the argument that this statute somehow did not apply to existing contracts, writing that “the parties have no vested right in a particular level of revenue” (view opinion). ATS disagrees.

“Because of the uncertainty caused by the attorney general’s opinion, Knoxville has been compelled to cease issuing citations to the owners of vehicles detected making illegal ‘right turns on red’ by traffic cameras based on the attorney general’s opinion,” ATS attorney C. Crews Townsend wrote. “In 2010, right-turn-on-red violations accounted for substantial fines collected by Knoxville pursuant to their respective ordinances. A portion of these fines were remitted to ATS pursuant to the agreement. This was a critical component of the agreement’s consideration supporting the parties’ contractual rights and obligations.”

ATS bases its argument on the “legislative history” of the new law. Many friendly state lawmakers assured the company that a grandfather clause would be slipped into the bill. The final, adopted version contained no such language exempting existing photo enforcement programs from the law’s provisions. ATS insists the lack of this provision is hurting the company’s bottom line.

“Without a court order clarifying that Public Act 425 does not impact the agreement, the injury to ATS will remain significant, immediate and continuing,” Townsend wrote. “If, as the attorney general has opined, Public Act 425 applies to existing contracts, including the agreement, then Public Act 425 has substantially impaired the agreement. Indeed, Knoxville has ceased prosecuting certain violations as required under the otherwise existing, valid, and enforceable agreement, and is causing ATS to lose substantial revenue.”

ATS asked the Chancery Court for Knox County to declare the right turn law unconstitutional because it discriminates against traffic camera companies.


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18 Comments on “Tennessee: ATS Sues City Over Right Turn Ticket Money...”

  • avatar

    This type of lawsuit is sickening.

  • avatar

    “ATS asked the Chancery Court for Knox County to declare the right turn law unconstitutional because it discriminates against traffic camera companies.”

    Gotta love living in the age of corporate personhood. Puke.

  • avatar

    “ATS asked the Chancery Court for Knox County to declare the right turn law unconstitutional because it discriminates against traffic camera companies.”

    A company has no constitutional right to customer patronage. They might have a claim if Knox County excluded only them from bidding the business in the first place, but Knox County has said they aren’t interested in the business at all.

    • 0 avatar

      The more I think about it, the more I think the Constitution of the State of Tennessee doesn’t play into this at all. What’s to stop a local government from choosing with whom and how they do business with the taxpayers’ money? The taxpayers, and the taxpayers only, by way of their votes for or against council members and state representatives/senators.

      The (Tennessee) town I live in has a law on the books that all startup car lots in town must have paved lots. No gravel parking lots for your used car dealership. Nobody’s suing the city government over it. It’s a job killer, IMHO, but how on earth does a constitution apply to a corporation or business? You don’t like it? Do business elsewhere. (Which has to be just about the most outright capital-R Republican thing I’ve ever said on TTAC, BTW.) I’m no constitutional scholar, but corporate personhood has never made, and will never make any sense to me. Maybe we need to write two constitutions: One to protect individual citizens (not corporations) from their government, and another to protect them from overzealous corporations. Then we can write one that protects governments from those same corporations, as well.

      Just thinking out loud. Take it as you will. Or won’t.

  • avatar

    The purpose of ATS red light enforcement program has always been to reduce violations and increase safety. It has never been about revenue … until now. ;-)

  • avatar

    I learned how to drive in Knoxville. Since when is it illegal to run right on red there?

    • 0 avatar

      it’s not that you turn right on red, but how you do so.

      Previously the rule was “drivers in Tennessee must come to a complete stop at a red light before making a right turn”.

      after the new law it is

      “(Drivers) would have to defer the right-of-way to pedestrians and cross traffic,” the legislation states. “If drivers are certain no other vehicles or pedestrians are approaching, the driver need not come to a complete stop, but must slow down while entering the intersection and make the right turn on red with caution.”

      Either way you can still get a ticket for taking a right on red at full speed but under the new law you can right on red without slowing enough to put your transmission in park. I’ve always thought it was stupid to say 0 MPH and 0.1 MPH are different. Under the old rules you could get a ticket from a live police officer if your wheel never stopped turning. Now you just have to slow down and avoid hitting anybody or causing anyone to hit you. Or in short treat that right on red like it has a yield sign.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s quite reasonable, and an improvement over the old rule. And y’know what? That’s what government’s job is, to refine and improve and, when necessary, enforce the rules that keep us from bumping into each other. It’s not government’s job to guarantee any private corporation a certain level of profits.

        This isn’t just about red light cameras. It’s a parable about privatization, and its perils. When you outsource and privatize government responsibilities, you insert the profit motive where it doesn’t belong. Look at the issues raised by the private prisons. Do you really want their lobbyists passing bucks to your representatives as they’re about to vote for longer prison sentences?

        At a points like this, the urge to shrink government conflict with the call to protect individual liberty. In the long run, government is a batter, fairer, more responsive enforcer of the peace than any ill-traied private security force whose first allegiance is to distant corporate owners. Taxes or profits? Pay me now, or pay me later…

  • avatar
    George B

    Proves that red light cameras are all about revenue. Make a normal but illegal creep out where you can see right turn on red and the camera company sends you a bill. Stop writing automatic tickets for the right turns and most of the revenue goes away.

    September 7, 2011
    The Knoxville News-Sentinel

    Sept. 07–Knoxville traffic citations fell 73 percent from June to July as a result of a new state law regulating red-light camera use, figures show.

    Beginning July 1, when the law took effect, the Knoxville Police Department stopped issuing $50 violations for improper right turns recorded by cameras at 15 city intersections.

    KPD Capt. Gordon Catlett, who oversees the photo enforcement program, said violations decreased from 4,826 in June to 1,308 in July.

  • avatar

    Well, I sorta see their point. Yeah they may be a bunch of SoB just for the money, but a contract is a contract. You could voice your disagreement before the city signed that contract. Once the ink dried, breaking a legal contract should be punished.

    It’s very dangerous when a higher level of legislature override a lower level one. Just look at Greece, imagine how new austerity laws would affect local governments. OK, you can only spend $100M this year. Does that mean the local government can break all existing contracts at will to adhere to the new federal law? It will be chaos.

    • 0 avatar

      “Once the ink dried, breaking a legal contract should be punished.”

      Perhaps so, but that’s something for a civil court to take up, not a constitutionality issue. If we break our contract on our cell phone or satellite TV agreements, I highly doubt either of those companies is going to petition the government to punish us on their behalf because our contract-breaking was somehow “discriminatory” to cell phone and/or satellite TV companies and therefore unconstitutional.

      • 0 avatar

        Both you and your cell phone company are civil parties. But in this case, it’s one juristiction overriding another one. I don’t know if that’s something “constitutional”, but definitely not civil.

    • 0 avatar

      ATS used to have a legal contract with Knoxville. Now, it’s an illegal contract since it requires the city to violate state law in order to fulfill its obligations. ATS’s real quarrel is with the state but I am sure they would be satisfied if Knoxville simply paid them their cut for the “violations” that no longer are.

      Higher levels of government frequently override lower ones. The lower ones don’t like it. Some fight the higher level all the way to the US Supreme Court. Others just continue to illegally enforce their local laws until someone who can afford a lawyer jerks them up short.

      • 0 avatar

        Not necessarily. Knoxville is a legal subjuristiction of Tennessee. So, when ATS signed the legal contract with Knoxville, it’s implied that it’s also a legal contract between ATS and Tenessee, or even between ATS and the US of A.

        When Tennessee wants to reverse itself, and making a previously legal behavior illegal, the new law should only affect new contracts, not previous ones.

        It’s like, when a criminal is sentenced to 5 years in jail. You just can’t change that to 10 years after the verdict, just because the criminal law is recently re-written.

      • 0 avatar

        Where you get completely off track is this idea you made up that Knoxville has the right to bind the state of Tennessee to contracts.

        It does not.

        If Knoxville changed its redlight policy that would be one thing, but Tennessee law completely preempts Knoxville law in this area, and Knoxville has no right to bind Tennessee against changing the law.

        If Knoxville did have the right to bind Tennessee to contracts then ATS would simply be suing Tennessee for breach of contract, not making up this BS that ” the right turn law unconstitutional because it discriminates against traffic camera companies.”

        Under your incorrect theory of the law (where municipal contracts bind everyone up to the US government) the US government would have to pay the contracts of any bankruptcy municipality (hey, it’s bound by them), and that is obviously not the case:

        Your concept of ex post facto law is also wrong. This is like making marijuana illegal right after someone just bought a really sweet bong, not like putting someone in jail for the marijuana he smoked before it was illegal.

        Any contract sensitive to changes in the law should CONTEMPLATE those changes in the law, and contemplate how the actual parties to the contract, i.e. ATS and Knoxville, will deal with them. If ATS failed to contemplate changes, and is now out some expected revenue, too bad. Unless it can get a corrupt judge to buy the discrimination BS, which is on about the same level as “regulations to make cars safer should be illegal, they discriminate against personal injury lawyers.”

        Not to be too harsh, but I don’t have a lot of patience for someone that does not understand the law in this area jumping in and saying, “hey guys, I know this sucks, but the completely parasitic politician buying redlight camera corporation has to win, it’s the law”, when it’s not the law.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    So ATS lied about the cameras being for safety and the lawmakers lied about inserting a grandfather clause into the new law. I see nothing wrong here.

  • avatar

    The judge is not going to void the law because of legislative history. The history is to only help interpret the law as its written. Not to insert things that clearly aren’t there.

    The company is doing this as harassment.

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