Arnold Red Light Cameras Lose in Court

23 Dec

On the heels of two other similar recent court decisions, the Arnold red light camera (RLC) ordinance was hit hard by the Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals (decision here). The court called the ordinance unconstitutional and counter to state law. Here I will summarize the ruling.

Plaintiffs Jeff Brunner and Kimberly Moore sued Arnold and camera vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) on the following counts, losing at trial and then moving to the appeals court:

  • I – whether the Arnold RLC ordinance is counter to state law, whether the city had the authority to enact it, whether ticketing the owner of a car is valid, whether the ordinance compels testimony to prove innocence and violates due process, and whether payments made for tickets must be refunded
  • II – unjust enrichment against Arnold
  • III – the ordinance compels self-incrimination
  • IV – the ordinance violates due process by creating a presumption of guilt
  • V – civil conspiracy to generate revenue illegally (abandoned on appeal)
  • VI – unjust enrichment against ATS
  • VII – fraud in in enacting, enforcing, and marketing the ordinance (abandoned on appeal)

First the court dismissed Arnold’s claim that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue because Brunner paid his ticket (update: and Moore did not pay hers) and they did not challenge them at the municipal level. Then the court ruled as follows:

  • The ordinance is valid under the city’s grant of authority from the state, but the case was remanded to the original court to determine if the ordinance is a valid exercise of the city’s police power (which requires ordinances to be related to better health and safety). No points are issued on RLC tickets, which removes a chance to get bad drivers off the road. Also, studies show crashes go up at some RLC intersections, while engineering solutions, an alternative to RLCs, are proven to reduce red light infractions. The court required discovery to be allowed on this issue.
  • The case was also remanded to determine whether the ordinance was instituted solely for revenue. To quote the ruling: “as did the couple in Aesop’s Fable, Arnold seems to have killed the “elusive goose that lays the golden egg,” for the primary and fundamental purpose of the Ordinance seems to be just that—profit. Profit for Arnold and profit for ATS.” Points raised in the opinion were the lack of a photo of the driver, the points issue, the ticketing of the owner, and the high cost of a ticket. Discovery was also ordered on this issue.
  • The ordinance conflicts with state statute 302.225, which requires moving violations be reported to the state for the issuance of points on a driver’s license. Arnold implicitly calls an RLC ticket a non-moving violation. The ordinance does not conflict with RSMo 304.281.
  • The court said “a rebuttable presumption is invalid and unconstitutional if an ordinance is criminal in nature;” the presumption being that the owner of the car ticketed was driving it. In the ruling, the court said the ordinance is indeed criminal in nature. The ordinance threatens an arrest warrant for non-payment of an RLC ticket. The ruling stated “while we agree that the intent of the Ordinance was not to punish violators via imprisonment, Arnold has acted as if the Ordinance was criminal in nature, presumably to coerce violators into paying the fine. Arnold may not use the Ordinance as a weapon and then ask to be shielded by the Ordinance.”
  • “To properly and sufficiently establish a claim for unjust enrichment, the plaintiff must prove three elements: (1) the defendant was enriched by
    the receipt of a benefit; (2) that the enrichment was at the expense of the plaintiff; and (3) that it would be unjust to allow the defendant to retain the benefit.” This ruling dismissed the unjust enrichment claim against Arnold, but remanded the question of whether the city contracted its governmental functions to a non-government entity (ATS) and thus unjustly enriched ATS. Discovery was ordered on this question too, and the process should provide some interesting material.

City Reaction

The ruling states “likewise, as discussed, infra, we too find this Ordinance—which is similar to that of the Ellisville Ordinance—void and unenforceable.” So Arnold shut off the cameras, right? After all, that’s what Columbia, Kansas City, and St. Joseph, Missouri all did.

Nope.

Bob Sweeney, the Arnold city attorney who is on a losing streak, told the council to wait, because the court didn’t order the cameras to be shut off. I’m not sure what one can do with RLCs that are accompanied by an unenforceable ordinance. Maybe hang some decorations from them? The only thing I can think of is to hope that a few more suckers pay their tickets before the state Supreme Court weighs in. According to the Post-Dispatch, “some Arnold officials cautioned that if the city made a hasty decision, it could be sued by the contractor running its red-light program.”

So the city should be more worried about a theoretical lawsuit by ATS than by the real and actual lawsuit it just took a beating on?

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11 Responses to “Arnold Red Light Cameras Lose in Court”

  1. wrongonred December 23, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Maybe Santa needs to pay the scameras a visit? A Santa Hat would be the perfect Christmas accessory.

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  2. Anonymous December 23, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    First, you need to reread the whole ruling. Only ONE of the two plaintiffs paid their ticket, the other threw it in the trash. So part of your article is incorrect.

    Second, the contract clearly has a clause that states should the ordinance be ruled I enforceable the contract may be voided.

    Do a little reading and research before you post lies and half truths.

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    • JC Penknife December 23, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

      You need to tell Sweeney about your second point, not me.

      Like

      • Anonymous December 24, 2013 at 8:53 am #

        You brought up the contract. You would think that you would do research on your posts. Too bad it seems you didn’t.

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    • wrongonred December 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

      Regardless whether there is a clause or not (there is, I have a copy), as a matter of contract law, a contract which contemplates an illegal act is void on its face as a matter of law, so really any of Sweeney’s discussion of it was obfuscation. He once told me that if I did not stop bashing the cameras while I was on the Council that ATS would sue me for “tortious interference of a contract”. I asked him if that was a threat, and he walked away in a huff.

      But JC is right, you really should tell Sweeney that as he has apparently not read the contract, nor did he read the Brunner Opinion, which clearly said the Arnold Municipal Court lacked jurisdiction, so at this point, Request to Transfer or not (which has already been rejected by the Supreme Court in both Unverferth v Florissant (which is the most factually similar case to Arnold) as well as the Creve Coeur case as well. So, at this point, the Arnold Municipal Court is really a rogue kangaroo court operating without jurisdiction.

      Also just wanted to point out, while Swindler goes skipping along thinking just ATS is on the hook for unjust enrichment, he should look to a ruling in the Western District about 3 weeks ago, in Damon v. Kansas City, a ruling which got absolutely no media coverage or mention, but was the most comprehensive in the state as of late. In this ruling, it was held that both ATS and the City of Kansas City were unjustly enriched, and that both classes may proceed. The Brunner Opinion never gives a legally grounded answer as to why one corporation, ATS, was unjustly enriched, however another corporation, the City of Arnold, was not, despite the fact it was the City who abdicated their statutory responsibility and duties, as well as violated the Constitution and State Statute. It is akin to punishing the hitman in a murder, and letting the financier go free. The court provided no logic to the distinction they provided, whereas the Damon Panel clearly enumerated their reasoning. About all the Brunner Panel can fall back on is that while the gains were ill gotten, that because they were supposedly used for the public benefit as part of general revenue, that somehow that mitigates their unjust nature. I do not think the law strongly supports such an assertion, but certainly cases of late like Zweig v. MSD do, which means the taxpayers can be soaked. Such rulings are directly contrary to the intent of Amendment X (Hancock).

      Hope Sweeney enjoys his vacation, I am sure he will bill Arnold for it.

      Like

  3. P H December 24, 2013 at 7:13 am #

    Sweeney is really not the idiot he portrays. He know he gets paid handsomely for doing both sides of this coin. His bad decisions are actually job security for him, as he gets paid to make them, then gets paid again to defend them. What a country!?! Or should I say, what an administration?!? The yahoos that run city government in Arnold should be incredibly ashamed of themselves, but they’re not, as the citizens have their collective heads in the sand and don’t see, nor care that they catch the brunt of these idiotic decisions.

    Like

  4. Anonymous December 24, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    Bob Sweeney said his opinion is right and the courts opinion is wrong and since Bob Sweeney is the smartest attorney that’s ever graced the earth with his presence, why are we even having this discussion?

    Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Arnold Defiant after Red Light Camera Decision | Jefferson County Penknife - December 27, 2013

    […] I’d say that the Appeals Court declaring Arnold’s ordinance “void and unenforceable” fits that description. But does ATS really want to get in the business of suing its […]

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  2. Arnold Defiant after Red Light Camera Decision | Jefferson County Penknife - December 27, 2013

    […] I’d say that the Appeals Court declaring Arnold’s ordinance “void and unenforceable” fits that description. But does ATS really want to get in the business of suing its […]

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  3. No, Arnold, You Really Don’t Have to Turn on the Red Light (Cameras) | Jefferson County Penknife - February 18, 2014

    […] city of Arnold just can’t quit red light cameras (RLCs). Despite losing its case in the Eastern District of Missouri appeals court, and having transfer to the state Supreme Court […]

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  4. Update on Happenings in Arnold | Jefferson County Penknife - May 10, 2014

    […] Attorney Bob Sweeney and company assured us that Arnold’s RLC program, which was crippled by an Eastern District Appeals Court decision, was not dead until the state Supreme Court took the […]

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