Traffic camera fighters suffered another blow in their war against surveillance Monday when a judge dismissed a lawsuit demanding refunds for thousands of red-light tickets in Knoxville.
Partly based on two recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decisions, Monday's ruling represents the latest setback in a year that's seen judges and politicians reluctant to surrender traffic cameras as a means of enforcement for basic traffic laws, including speeding and various red-light offenses.
"I hope it's clear around the state that this is a legitimate thing that cities can do and that lawyers will read the relevant cases before shooting off lawsuits that don't have any merit," said Michael Kelley, a Knoxville attorney who defended Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., the operator of the Knoxville system.
Two almost-identical $10 million lawsuits against photo enforcement in the cities of Chattanooga and Red Bank now face their own joint motion to dismiss on Sept. 20 in Hamilton County Chancery Court.
Adam Priest, an attorney who represented plaintiffs in Knoxville and who plans to argue for plaintiffs fighting Chattanooga and Red Bank, declined to comment, citing the upcoming hearing.
In each of the cases, clients are seeking refunds of all penalties and late fees associated with red-light tickets for all people cited. They contend that the state Legislature didn't formally legalize traffic cameras until after the cities began using them.
But Knoxville, Chattanooga and Red Bank each argue that the cities didn't need state approval to use another method to enforce basic traffic laws.
Red Bank installed cameras in 2006; Chattanooga started using them a year later, and both governments don't appear to be changing course anytime soon.
In the face of at least one resident who called the police tools "candid cameras," Red Bank commissioners voted 4-1 in February to extend a contract for 12 years with American Traffic Solutions, the city's camera company.
Vice Mayor Monty Millard provided the lone dissenting voice in that vote.
"I'm all about safety, but we've gotten nothing but negative publicity about this," he said at the time.
In January, Chattanooga officials, including Mayor Ron Littlefield, showcased their traffic-camera program to several state lawmakers in a successful effort to stall a statewide traffic camera moratorium.
A dismissal of the lawsuit would be a welcome event in Red Bank, which has been sued five times in the last four months.
The $10 million traffic camera lawsuit almost doubles the city's $5.1 million annual budget.
"That's one less potential liability for the city, which would be good for our citizens," Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey said. "I would breathe a little easier."
Contact Chris Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6610.