South Dakota Court Rules Against Red Light Cameras
A red light camera company faces being fined for running an illegal operation in the state of South Dakota. Last Tuesday, a circuit court judge ruled that Redflex Traffic Systems and the city of Sioux Falls violated state law and the US Constitution when they set up automated ticketing machines without approval from the state legislature. The question of whether Redflex is financially liable, and to what degree, will now be determined by a jury.
On April 8, 2002, Sioux Falls adopted an ordinance creating an automated ticketing program operated under contract with Redflex. The Australian company mailed a ticket to motorist I.L. Wiedermann on March 13, 2006, claiming that he had made a right turn on red. Wiedermann appealed the $86 fine, but a city-paid hearing officer ruled against him. A circuit court refused to hear a second appeal, claiming it lacked jurisdiction. Wiedermann then filed a class action suit against the program claiming four distinct violations of state law. The court denied all but two of the counts in Wiedermann’s suit, but that was enough for Wiedermann.
Redflex had argued that, as a private company, it should be dropped from the suit. Redflex maintained that the camera program was entirely city run. Second Judicial Circuit Presiding Judge Kathleen K. Caldwell laid out the criteria for determining whether this was the case.
“A precursor to a private entity’s liability for constitutional violations is a finding of ‘state action’ by that private entity,” Caldwell wrote. “If Redflex was delegated a public function by the state, was entwined with governmental policies or the city was entwined with [Redflex’s] management or control, then the court can find that Redflex was a state actor.”
The proposal that Redflex submitted to the city when bidding for the contract to run the photo enforcement program provided sufficient evidence to the judge that the company may fit the definition of a state actor.
“Redflex provides jurisdictions with comprehensive adjudication, court support services, including the development of a court file transfer interface, court training modules, provisions for court packages for each hearing and expert witness testimony,” the Redflex documents explained. “Redflex can provide administrative adjudication services and support and court services and support. This includes the scheduling [of] appeal hearings, training hearing panels and/or hearing officers and providing critical documentation and hearing packages.”
The court delivered a fatal blow to the city by agreeing with Wiedermann that the Sioux Falls ordinance violated a uniformity statute that prohibited cities from imposing standards in an ordinance “less stringent” than those imposed by state law for traffic violations and other matters.
“The city’s motion for summary judgment regarding plaintiff’s Count III of the complaint cannot be resolved in the city’s favor because the ordinance adopted by the city sets standards or requirements which are less stringent than state law under SDCL 6-12-5,” Caldwell wrote. “State law makes it a class two misdemeanor to run a red light while the city ordinance in essence decriminalizes the same conduct and makes it a civil penalty… Although only persuasive law, the Minnesota Supreme Court previously looked at this exact issue under Minnesota statutes which are similar to South Dakota statutes in Minnesota v. Kuhlman. In Kuhlman, the Minnesota Supreme Court found that the Minneapolis city ordinance was in conflict with Minnesota state law and specifically reversed the presumption of innocence required by the rules of criminal procedure.”
The court found that although there is no evidence that the hearing officers were biased, the process set up by Redflex and the city improperly reversed the burden of proof. Instead of the city proving the guilt of the accused, the accused must prove his own innocence.
“Plaintiff was given notice but the court finds that plaintiff was not given a meaningful opportunity to be heard under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article Six Section Two of the South Dakota Constitution in light of this court’s recent devision in Daily v. City of Sioux Falls,” Caldwell wrote.
Both findings are enough to invalidate the red light camera program as it is currently operated.
“The only issues for the trier of fact to decide are whether Redflex was a state actor and what damages, if any, to which plaintiff is entitled,” Caldwell ruled.
Sioux Falls City Attorney Robert Amundson said in a statement that the city was reviewing the decision further before deciding how to proceed. A copy of the decision is available in a 500k PDF file at the source link below.
Wiedermann v. Sioux Falls (Circuit Court of South Dakota, 6/15/2010)
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