published Friday, April 30th, 2010

Residents file class-action traffic camera suit


by Brittany Cofer

Class-action lawsuits are speeding ahead against the cities of Chattanooga and Red Bank, contesting the constitutionality of ordinances allowing $50 traffic-camera citations.

Attorneys for several area residents who have received the red-light and speeding citations brought forth the two lawsuits, which ask that all fines and associated costs paid since the ordinances were passed -- a total of $10 million from each city -- be reimbursed to all potential plaintiffs.

Tyler Geren, of Chattanooga, and Daniel Houston, of Ringgold, Ga., are the initial plaintiffs in the suit against Chattanooga, and Drew Whitley, of Chattanooga, and Alicia Carico, of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., are the initial plaintiffs in the suit against Red Bank, records show.

Chattanooga attorney Jonathan Guthrie, who is representing the plaintiffs along with Knoxville attorneys Robert Pryor and Adam Priest, said the lawsuits are based on the assertion that the ordinances were unconstitutional at the time they were passed. Class-action status is being sought since it is unfeasible for all members to be part of the suit, he said.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press One of three traffic cameras at the intersection of Ashland Terrace and Dayton Boulevard in Red Bank records traffic light violations on Thursday. Cameras are installed at three intersections in Red Bank.

"It is our contention that the municipal ordinances at issue were passed by Red Bank and the city of Chattanooga, respectively, at a time when they were contrary to state law," Mr. Guthrie said. "Therefore, since they were contrary to state law, they were unconstitutional when enacted.

"The state of Tennessee has since passed legislation authorizing red-light cameras," he said, "but neither Red Bank nor the city of Chattanooga has re-enacted any such legislation."

Mr. Guthrie said the class-action lawsuits are based on "somewhat complex constitutional issues" that include issues of liability, burden of proof and a hindrance on the state driver improvement program, among others.

TRAFFIC CAMERA LOCATIONS

Chattanooga:

* Barton Avenue across from Girls Preparatory School

* Hixson Pike S curves

* South Crest Road at Georgia border

* Brainerd Road at North Moore Road

* M.L. King Boulevard at Pine Street

* Highway 153 at Gadd Road

* Fourth Avenue at 23rd Street

* Highway 153 at Hamill Road

* South Holtzclaw Avenue and McCallie Avenue

Red Bank:

* Ashland Terrace at Dayton Boulevard

* Signal Mountain Road at Dayton Boulevard

* Morrison Springs Road at Dayton Boulevard

Source: Newspaper archives

Chattanooga City Attorney Mike McMahan said the city would "vigorously defend" itself against the lawsuit, but he declined to comment further.

Red Bank City Attorney Arnold Stulce said he has heard about the lawsuit but has not seen it. He declined comment until he could review the suit.

Red Bank began its traffic camera ticketing program in September 2005, and Chattanooga followed a year later. Residents in both areas have hotly contested the programs, which have issued thousands of citations in each city, according to the lawsuits.

A statewide bill that would restrict cities' use of red-light and speeding cameras recently was delayed by the House's Budget Subcommittee for fiscal reasons.

The bill would prohibit local governments from placing the cameras on any highway receiving state aid unless the contract with the private vender is based solely on a set fee. In addition, the bill says payments to the vendor no longer would be based on the percentage or number of citations generated by the camera, according to newspaper archives.

Both of those provisions would affect Chattanooga and Red Bank.

Click here to vote in our daily poll: Are traffic cameras unconstitutional?

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Times Editorial: Save cameras, nail scofflaws

Article: Traffic cameras on radar of lawmakers

Article: Smile, you're captured on speed cam

about Brittany Cofer...

Brittany Cofer is a business reporter who has been with the Chattanooga Times Free Press since January 2010. She previously worked as a general assignment Metro reporter. In the Business department, she covers banking, retail, tourism, consumer issues and green issues. Brittany is from Conyers, Ga., and spent two years at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., before transferring to the University of Georgia. She graduated from the university’s Grady College of Journalism in December ...

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nurseforjustice said...

Here's a thought. If we obey the traffic laws, then the cameras would be obsolete. I have only known where 3 of these cameras were and have never gotten a ticket because for the most part, I obey the laws. (Now as soon as I write this, I will get a ticket). But I stand behind my statement of obeying the law. It is something we should all try.

Here's to new concepts. Nurse

April 30, 2010 at 11:39 a.m.
Musicman375 said...

Nurse, I don't disagree with your statement, but I am still against the cameras simply because they disregard due process. You are guilty until proven innocent with those tickets. Also, It is illegal for you as a citizen to be cited for a moving violation when a living, breathing officer of the law didn't witness the event. That's why you are sent a civil invoice on 8 1/2 X 11 rather than a citation. They are using intimidation to make unknowing people believe they are being criminally charged when that is impossible with these cameras, save for the vans. Officers are present in those, so there is nothing you can do about that.

April 30, 2010 at 12:19 p.m.
Humphrey said...

I've gotten one on hixson pike, I paid it. My wife and I still disagree about who it was that was driving that car that day. You know, that right there ought to be enough to say these things are bogus; I honestly don't know which of us was driving.

April 30, 2010 at 4:55 p.m.
Vandy said...

Humphrey, you don't deny one of you ran a red light? Musicman, what is your basis for it being illegal to be cited for a moving violation by other than an officer? A new state law? You are guilty until you prove yourself innocent on any traffic ticket. I love a story from DC about a guy who got a $50 ticket with the picture of his car running a red light. He sent back a picture of $50 for the fine. He got a new picture from the city of a pair of handcuffs. He sent a check. They do appear to reduce accidents.

April 30, 2010 at 6:22 p.m.
dave said...

And what ever happened to being allowed to face your accusers? There are real problems with using the traffic cams on more than one level. I understand that some college students were making copies of students tags they wanted to cause difficulties and pasting the paper copies over their own tags...then driving repeatedly at a high rate of speed through the traffic cam area.

April 30, 2010 at 11:39 p.m.
Musicman375 said...

Vandy, I haven't actually read the law. That was info received from a friend who is a Red Bank Police Officer. Hopefully he knows what he is talking about.

May 1, 2010 at 2:37 p.m.
Humphrey said...

"Humphrey, you don't deny one of you ran a red light?"

I don't think i did, she doesn't think she did. The camera took a picture so there you have it.

May 1, 2010 at 3:43 p.m.
Tom468 said...

The laws should be found to be constitutional as has happened in several other jurisdictions including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In this day of distracted and aggressive driving, red-light cameras are a valuable safety tool.

May 1, 2010 at 4:54 p.m.
Obie1 said...

Just another couple of broke attorneys looking for an angle to protect the guilty and exploit the innocent. Forget that the people who got the tickets broke the law and put others in harms way. Ignore the drop in violations since the cameras were installed; disregard the reduced crashes; and certainly don’t bring up the injuries that have been avoided in both cities. The data is clear, the programs are working. They couldn’t care less that their clients were guilty and got caught, but are looking for a legal loop hole to get tem off and cost the taxpayers big bucks (to the lawyers). The time, effort and money would be better spent in convincing people to drive safer: don't break the law, don't run red lights or speed, and you won’t have an issue.

July 10, 2010 at 2:53 p.m.
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