In our most recent article, we commented upon Missouri’s inconsistent red-light camera rulings. In Edwards, et al. v. City of Ellisville and American Traffic Solutions, Inc., ED99389 (2013), the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District handed down a ruling invalidating the “red-light camera” ordinance of the municipality of Ellisville, Missouri. More recently, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District has held that a similar Kansas City ordinance is likewise void and unenforceable because it “permits what state law prohibits – the classification of running a red light as a non-moving violation free from the assessment of points.” The case is Damon, et al. v. City of Kansas City and American Traffic Solutions, Inc., WD75363 (2013). Kansas City’s municipal government had been planning to amend its ordinance after the Ellisville ruling, but now those plans are on hold. For the time being, Kansas City will not issue any “red-light camera” tickets, pending a clarification of the applicable law. The City hopes the Supreme Court of Missouri will clear up the confusion. Interestingly, however, Kansas City is still taking pictures of vehicles that run red lights in the hope their ordinance will ultimately be reinstated, after which they may try to go back and issue tickets to individuals who ran a red light. If the Kansas City ordinance is found to be valid as written, then perhaps they can legitimately issue tickets later (a ticket is essentially a criminal “charge”, for which there are applicable statutes of limitations by which such a charge must be issued, and do not require them to necessarily be issued at the exact time of the offense). However, we believe that if the ordinance is held to be invalid (as decided under the Western District’s appellate ruling) but is subsequently “corrected” to comply with whatever guidance the Missouri Supreme Court may offer, drivers could not be ticketed for any violations occurring in the interim.
The Kansas City case is more interesting because of an issue not present in the Ellisville case – the plaintiffs in the Damon case claimed that American Traffic Solutions (“ATS”) had actually received a legal opinion, in advance, that the ticketing plan was “illegal” under Missouri law. Consequently, the appeals court left standing a request for reimbursement of fines that had already been paid (plus a “convenience fee” charged by ATS) by prior-ticketed motorists (or, at least, the vehicles’ owners). The claim is the City and ATS were unjustly enriched by participating in a scheme they had reason to believe was illegal. This fits nicely with other claims by the plaintiffs that the City had adopted the red light camera ordinance only to raise money and that red-light cameras are proven to cause, not prevent, accidents. It is also interesting to note that the law firm which had earlier opined that the plan was “illegal” continued to represent ATS throughout the ensuing litigation.
We are aware of only one situation in the country where drivers who had paid red-light camera tickets actually received refunds. The City of Minneapolis, Minnesota adopted a red-light camera ordinance and collected fines for about two years before the ordinance was found to be invalid by the Minnesota Supreme Court in State v. Kuhlman, 729 NW2d 577 (Minn. 2007). A class action lawsuit was pursued in federal court for refunds, and a settlement was reached that ended up costing Minneapolis approximately $2.6 million paid to more than 14,000 drivers. See, Shapira, et al. v. The City of Minneapolis, Case No. 06-CV-02190- MJD-SRN, United States District Court, District of Minnesota.
It remains to be seen how red-light camera ordinances and applications will be evaluated by not only the Missouri Supreme Court but the judiciary in other states. We think that red-light cameras are probably here to stay, whether for security, surveillance, the claim of “safety” or just to generate local revenue…but not without a fight in most instances.
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