Ohio: State Court Green Lights Traffic Camera Case
The red light camera program in Cleveland, Ohio faces serious legal trouble as the state’s second-highest court ruled Thursday that a class action lawsuit could proceed. In its decision, a three-judge panel of the Ohio Court of Appeals for the Eighth Appellate District overturned a county court ruling that had blocked a class action challenge to the city’s issuance of photo tickets to the drivers of leased vehicles. The appellate court insisted that the case had merit as did a federal appeals court in a separate case decision over Cleveland’s automated ticketing machines handed down last month ( view ruling).
A group of $100 ticket recipients sued Cleveland on the grounds that the municipal traffic camera ordinance did not give the city any authority to impose a fine on someone who leased his vehicle. Under the ordinance, only the “vehicle owner” was liable for a traffic fine. None of the appellants owned any vehicle photographed by Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian company in charge of issuing tickets in Cleveland. Thus, the city unjustly enriched itself, the appellants argued, by collecting money without legal authority. Cleveland’s city attorney countered that the lawsuit should be thrown out on the grounds that the motorists paid their tickets, which is an admission of guilt. The appellate court rejected this line of thinking.
“The question before us, then, is whether appellants can prove any set of facts demonstrating that it would be unjust for the city to retain the fines appellants paid,” Judge Kenneth A. Rocco wrote. “While we recognize that the appellants had the opportunity to challenge the imposition of the fines before they paid them, this opportunity does not necessarily foreclose any right to equitable relief… Among other things, the question whether appellants were induced to pay the fines by a mistake of fact or law and whether they were coerced to pay by a threat of additional penalties may be relevant to this question.”
The appeals court found the legal issues involved were not clear cut and therefore should be argued fully in a trial court. The judges also found that it was quite possible that the facts would show the case would be appropriately certified as a class action so that every leased vehicle ticket recipient could recover the fine payments collected contrary to the law. Cleveland has modified its ordinance so that future citations will not be affected by the case.
A copy of the decision is available in a 40k PDF file at the source link below.
Lycan v. Cleveland (Court of Appeals, State of Ohio, 12/13/2010)
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The issues in the class action suit seem to apply only to leased cars. So why would the Cleveland red light camera program be in trouble? As the article itself notes, "Cleveland has modified its ordinance so that future citations will not be affected by the case." Win or lose this case, the Cleveland red light camera program will probably live on.