Residents file class-action traffic camera suit

Residents file class-action traffic camera suit

April 30th, 2010 by Brittany Cofer in News

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.

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.

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