Recently, 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. Curiously, the same Court upheld a red light camera ordinance in another St. Louis area municipality, Creve Coeur, in 2011. In their opinion in the Edwards case, the court held that Ellisville’s ordinance violates state law, Section 304.281 RSMo., the statute governing traffic signal violations by drivers and pedestrians. Since that statute does not mention vehicle owners whatsoever, and Ellisville’s ordinance allows tickets to be issued to the owner of the car photographed by the cameras, instead of the driver of the car, the appellate court found that the ordinance was in conflict with state law. The court also held that the Ellisville ordinance violated other state laws (Sections 302.225 and 302.302 RSMo.) as well, because running a red light is a “moving” violation under state law that requires the conviction to be reported to the Department of Revenue and points be assessed against a person’s license; the Ellisville ordinance classified violations of the ordinance as “non-moving infractions” for which no report would be made to the Department, and no points assessed. This particular finding in Edwards differed from the holding in the Creve Coeur case; therefore, the Creve Coeur case was overruled and is no longer good law. The court’s opinion in the Ellisville case made it clear that there would need to be a change in Missouri state law or a revision of relevant municipal red light camera ordinances to eliminate any conflict between an ordinance and state law.
The Edwards ruling could effectively invalidate numerous similar red light camera ordinances throughout Missouri, although it remains to be seen if the Western or Southern appellate districts would hold similarly, or if the Missouri Supreme Court will view the issue in the same manner as the appellate court did in Edwards and affirm that ruling.
It should be noted that the City of St. Louis claims their red light camera ordinance is valid as sufficiently dissimilar from the Ellisville ordinance because the St. Louis City ordinance allows vehicle owners to refute that they were actually driving at the time of the violation. In addition, St. Louis City does not specifically attempt to classify these violations as “non-moving” violations, but leaves it up to the State of Missouri (which, presumably, will classify them as “moving” violations and assess points).
The company that operates the Ellisville red light cameras plans to appeal the Edwards ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court. Of course, the Ellisville ruling does not hold that red light cameras are per se unconstitutional, but simply that Ellisville’s particular red light camera ordinance, as written, is invalid. Therefore, while this ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals seemingly limits the effectiveness of red light cameras as a traffic violation deterrent, in reality, Ellisville and municipalities with similar ordinances can still amend their local red light camera laws to conform to the specific points highlighted by the appellate court. That is exactly what the City of St. Peters did as an immediate proactive response to Edwards, amending their local ordinance to start classifying red light camera convictions in their town as moving violations.
At least one local attorney went on the airwaves after the Edwards ruling to suggest that anyone receiving a “red light camera” ticket simply refuse to pay it. While that may not be bad advice in Ellisville itself pending revision of their ordinance, as a general proposition we think it may be misleading, and is likely to cause much aggravation, wasted time and money for people who receive a red light camera ticket elsewhere. We suggest that anyone who receives a red light camera ticket check the ordinance language of the particular municipality issuing the ticket, and/or seek counsel before presuming that red light camera tickets are simply invalid generally.
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