Ohio Appeals Court Says Speed Trap Town Must Pay Back $3 Million In Unconstitutional Speed Camera Tickets

from the hey-New-Miami,-your-rights-end-where-citizens'-rights-begin dept

Drivers sent tickets by New Miami, Ohio speed cameras will be getting a refund. The state appeals court has upheld the ruling handed down by the lower court last spring. At stake is $3 million in fines, illegally obtained by the town.

The Ohio Court of Appeals on Monday delivered a heavy blow to New Miami’s attempt to block a court-ordered refund of $3,066,523 in speed camera citations. The village insisted that the lower court (view ruling) got it wrong and that the village should not be forced to pay back any amount on the grounds of sovereign immunity. Not so, said the unanimous three-judge panel.

“While it is true that New Miami has the authority to enforce its traffic laws, it must do so in a constitutional manner,” Judge Michael E. Powell wrote for the appellate court. “New Miami does not have the authority to do so in an unconstitutional manner.”

This is the end of six year legal battle over New Miami’s speed cameras. The lower court had problems with the lack of options made available to ticket recipients to challenge speeding tickets. It also had problems with New Miami’s cozy relationship with the speed camera company, which provided free cameras in exchange for a percentage of collected fines. This fostered an unhealthy relationship between the two, leading to the town becoming most famous for being a speed trap. The company saddled New Miami with a minimum of 100 operating hours per camera each month. This led to spike in tickets and a healthy thirst for continual cash infusions on the part of New Miami’s governance.

The Appeals Court addresses New Miami’s last-ditch attempt to salvage the $3 million it obtained unconstitutionally. The town tried to go the “sovereign immunity” route, claiming it could not be held responsible for monetary damages arising from a civil suit. The court explains handing out refunds isn’t the same thing as issuing a check for monetary damages. From the order [PDF]:

[P]laintiffs are seeking the recovery of the specific amount of penalties they paid pursuant to the unconstitutional ordinance and that were therefore wrongfully collected by New Miami. That is, Plaintiffs are seeking the return of specific monies that had once been in their possession and so belonged to them “in good conscience,” and thus have asserted a claim for the return of the very thing to which the class was allegedly entitled in the first place. Santos, 2004-Ohio-28 at ¶ 13-14. The action seeking restitution by Plaintiffs “is not a civil suit for money damages but rather an action to correct the unjust enrichment of” New Miami. Id. at ¶ 17. As the Ohio Supreme Court plainly held, “A suit that seeks the return of specific funds wrongfully collected or held by the state is brought in equity” and “is consequently not barred by sovereign immunity.”

The government also tried to claim the speed camera funds were not unjustly obtained. It argued it had a legal right to impose fines for traffic violations. The court agrees the town can indeed do that, but points out it has to comply with the Constitution when it does.

New Miami claims that this is not a case where Plaintiffs are seeking reimbursement for services rendered or money “wrongfully collected.” New Miami asserts that the penalties paid by Plaintiffs were not “wrongfully collected” because New Miami has the authority “to operate traffic programs and collect penalties for violation of traffic laws.” Apparently, it is New Miami’s contention that because it has legal authority to collect penalties for violation of its traffic laws, Plaintiffs’ claim is necessarily for money damages based upon a denial of due process in the collection of those penalties. While it is true that New Miami has the authority to enforce its traffic laws, it must do so in a constitutional manner. New Miami does not have the authority to do so in an unconstitutional manner.

Hopefully, this will be the end of New Miami’s run as “the little speed trap that could.” It’s been told otherwise — twice. It can’t. Not the way it’s been doing things. If the town wants to assess fees for traffic violations, fine. But it has to provide an avenue for recipients to challenge tickets. Its cozy relationship with the camera company prevents that. And its contractual obligations pervert the incentives, moving it from public safety to generating revenue.

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Comments on “Ohio Appeals Court Says Speed Trap Town Must Pay Back $3 Million In Unconstitutional Speed Camera Tickets”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It should come from the personal accounts of the town officials responsible for this. Empty their bank account; confiscate and sell their houses, cars, and other assets. If that doesn’t cover it, they should be forced to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week until they either pay it off or drop dead. (Either outcome is acceptable.)

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

According to the “little speed trap that could” link above, “As of the end of April the village has been billed more than $260,000 by its attorneys and had paid $253,537.” Those figures are probably much higher nine months later, now that the case has made it to court.

If you go after town officials responsible – who were acting in their official capacity – to claw the money back, they’ll fight it in court. The taxpayers will be paying the legal fees for BOTH sides.

Roger Meurer says:

Re: reply to daydream

The taxpayers are going to take the hit, as usual.

The crooks already pocketed the money, they sure aren’t going to give it up!

In the end the “leaders” in New Miami are going to be informing the people of the town that THEY have to pick up the costs and they’ll either cut services to those people or raise costs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I think a bypass is in order

Ironically, it kind of already is. Very few properties within the boundary are east of US127.

I vaguely recall (can’t remember the name) there being another small town which pulled something similar. It’s almost entirely on one side of a highway but because there’s a gas station on the other side a very short segment of the highway passes through their boundary, so they are able to pursue highway traffic for violations.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: I think a bypass is in order

Waldo, Florida.

A small segment of highway that runs through Waldo requires drivers to speed up and slow down six times: 65 mph becomes 55 mph; 55 becomes 45; then goes back to 55; then back down to 45; to 55 again and eventually, 35 mph.

The ticket revenue contributed nearly half of the city’s budget.

Tom Veldhouse (profile) says:

Similar occurred in Minnesota 5 years ago

Minneapolis was mailing tickets to drivers and it was tossed as unconstitutional. The main argument that I recall is that it cannot be proven, reliably, that the owner of the car was driving at the time. The ticket goes with the driver, not the car.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Similar occurred in Minnesota 5 years ago

Interesting but there’s no detail there. Was it only illegal because they were sending “regular” traffic citations? Lots of places have passed laws effectively making it illegal to own a vehicle that someone else uses to break traffic laws, which means the owners don’t get “traffic citations” per se and can’t have their license suspended. Did they strike down laws like that, or was it just some technicality they can work around?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

As far as I can tell, it’s a due process claim (technically they used the Ohio constitution’s “due course of law” phrasing instead of federal the 5th/14th amendment “due process” phrasing, but it seems to be a similar concept), but not quite for that reason. A person getting one of these tickets actually could request an administrative hearing, and even an appeal of the hearing in a court. But the method was improper because the Ohio constitution says that it should go to a particular court. The hearing was not in any court, and the appeal wasn’t in the court specified by the Ohio constitution, essentially making the law unconstitutional.

NeghVar (profile) says:

Duncanville, TX

Duncanville, TX had a similar situation a while back. Fines for running a red light cost $75. 83% of these fines were right turns. Even when a full stop was made, they were fined because they crossed the white line. Which you must do to make a legal right turn. Anyway, the fine was $75. If you wanted to challenge the fine, it cost $75 to subpoena the data from the red light camera company. So, if your challenge failed, it cost you $75 for the fine and $75 for the subpoena. If your challenged succeeded, you still paid $75 for the subpoena. It was a no-win situation. Once it hit the news and the state threatened to investigate the city, Duncanville dropped the $75 subpoena fee.

Tony Gultice (profile) says:

The funny thing is this little town is still trying to skirt the law to catch people speeding. They have ‘marked’ cars doing speed traps, but they are painted in violation of Ohio law.

“4549.13 Marking and equipment for motor vehicle used by traffic enforcement officers.
Any motor vehicle used by a member of the state highway patrol or by any other peace officer, while said officer is on duty for the exclusive or main purpose of enforcing the motor vehicle or traffic laws of this state, provided the offense is punishable as a misdemeanor, shall be marked in some distinctive manner or color and shall be equipped with, but need not necessarily have in operation at all times, at least one flashing, oscillating, or rotating colored light mounted outside on top of the vehicle. The superintendent of the state highway patrol shall specify what constitutes such a distinctive marking or color for the state highway patrol.

Effective Date: 10-25-1979.”

The Superintendent of the OSHP has specifically stated certain contrast of the police/sheriff/highway patrol markings to the paint of the vehicle which the current dark gray on black scheme of New Miami is in clear violation of.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

North Carolina has a similar law, but most of the cities get around that by making the shades of paint almost, but not quite, the same, making it very hard to tell at a glance that the car is a police car. Then they also make the flashing lights using low profile LEDs shaped like a luggage rack. Natives have all learned to recognize the cars, but people passing through have no idea.

Johnny Walker says:

Nothing to see here

A few years ago I changed my life style and city of residence after years of personal experience, having finally correctly concluded that driving a car was just an excuse for tin-horn thugs to prey upon owners and drivers for anything and everything from straying or parking an inch over a line, having a crooked license plate or malfunctioning light bulb, not to mention parking fees, inspection fees, yada yada ad infinitum, not to mention the shenagans of crooked cops looking for any excuse to pull a driver and go fishing for assets to seize.

To reduce one’s visibility as a target has by and large been successful. Although there are inconveniences, in the long run I have benefited with improved health, more money and peace of mind in an otherwise stressful environment inthe USSA by flying/walking under the radar of pedators disguised as “officials” of one ilk or another.

“By their work (and deeds) you shall know them.”

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The next automotive feature.

Photography-resistant and ALPR-resistant license plates are soon going to become a common feature for cars.

Then the FBI is going to complain about the highways _going dark_ because law enforcement’s robots don’t track the cars of criminals.

Soon there will be a list of 20,000 unidentified cars that if their licenses were known, would solve a major crime.

ECA (profile) says:


People have a perspective problem..
Every time we read/watch on TV, something of import..
We give a concern, as if it happened NEAR US..

Which can be a good thing, in some cases. It can also be a Sign post, to PAY ATTENTION to what is happening around you.
You must understand how many NEEDED to be involved in this.
Police Chief
Court filing and fee’s..esp if you can not contest a Law/Ticket..

Mr E. says:

Justice served!

I’m glad to see one Ohio town getting it’s ass handed to it for this. Now would someone please file suit against Linndale Ohio for the same practices! The Ohio Revised Code clearly states that the accused must be provided due process as a matter of law under which the accused has the right to face their accuser and subpoena witnesses. Trial by a Hearing Officer, as provided in Linndale, is unconstitutional and ruled as such in New Miami.

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