Since Kilper, Missouri Courts have both upheld and struck down red light ordinances in a number of municipalities across the State. In 2011, the Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri upheld the City of Creve Coeur’s red light ordinance. City of Creve Coeur v. Nottebrok, 356 S.W.3d 252 (2011). There, plaintiff Nottebrok sued the City of Creve Coeur after receiving a citation for a red light violation. The citation was signed by an officer and contained an “Administrative Review” notice informing the recipient vehicle owner that liability could not be transferred to the driver of the vehicle. Further, the citation also notified the vehicle owner that failure to pay the fine would result in a Notice to Appear in Court being issued to the vehicle owner. Plaintiff Nottebrok failed to pay the fine and was issued a Notice to Appear in Court on the citation.
Plaintiff filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that her due process rights had been violated because the City lacked probable cause to allege she was the driver of the vehicle at the time of the offense. Her Motion also argued that the ordinance was inconsistent with State law in that it failed to report the red light violation as a moving violation as required by State law; that the ordinance imposed strict liability upon a vehicle owner rather than upon a driver under State law; and that the ordinance imposed a lesser standard of proof than required under criminal procedural rules by the State, undermining the driver’s constitutional due process protections. At the municipal court hearing, plaintiff’s motion was denied and she was found guilty of violating the ordinance and assessed a fine. Plaintiff then appealed the municipal court ruling by filing another Motion to Dismiss in circuit court. The City’s argument in opposition stated that (1) the imposition of a modest fine was allowable in order to achieve public safety goals; (2) movement was not a requisite element of the ordinance violation, so point need not be reported to the Department of Revenue; (3) incarceration was not a possible sanction; (4) the City had constitutional authority to enact such statutes; and (5) the ordinance did not conflict with Missouri law. On trial de novo, the Court affirmed the lower court’s finding of guilt and plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Eastern District.
The Court stated a unique standard of review because, “violations of municipal ordinances are civil matters but, because of the quasi-criminal nature of an ordinance, are subject to the criminal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” Id. at 257, citing City of Dexter v. McClain, 345 S.W.3d 883, 885 (Mo. App. S.D. 2011); see also City of Bellefontaine Neighbors v. Scatizzi, 302 S.W.3d 730, 732 (Mo. App. E.D. 2010), and Cityof Kansas City v. Heather, 273 S.W.3d 592, 595 (Mo. App. W.D. 2009). Appellant argued first that her due process rights were violated because the City lacked probable cause to issue the citation as there was a lack of evidence that she was the driver at the time of the violation. The City made many arguments in rebuttal, but most germane, claimed that because the ordinance was civil in nature, criminal standards of due process need not apply.
In assessing this issue, the Court noted that, “civil ordinances ‘need not provide the heightened procedural protections required by the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.’”Id. citing Mills v. City of Springfield, 2010 WL 3526208, at *12 (W.D. Mo. 2010). The Court then analyzed the same factors set forth by the Kilper court in determining whether an ordinance was civil in nature to determine that this ordinance was a civil ordinance enacted to effectuate the city’s police power for regulating public safety. Once that determination was made, the Court then found that a properly enacted civil statute – which “under no circumstances” would result in jail time for an infraction – only required the City hold the owner of the vehicle, rather than the driver of the vehicle, responsible for the violation. In essence, the Court held that the City need only prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Appellant was the owner of the vehicle as it pertained to the violation. Thus, Appellant’s due process rights were found not to have been violated.
The only other point on appeal was that the ordinance violated Missouri law, which required assessment and reporting of points for moving violations under the licensing statutes. However, the Court determined that a violation of an ordinance was different than a moving violation in that the ordinance only required an improper presence of a vehicle in an intersection, not that the vehicle had violated a rule of the road. The City’s cause was ultimately affirmed.
The municipalities of the City of Creve Coeur and Florissant, Missouri both won additional circuit court cases on similar issues in 2012, with a decision in the Florissant case pending appeal. Unverferth v. Cusumano, Case No. ED98511 (Mo. App. E.D., filed May 25, 2012); Ballard, et. al. v. City of Creve Coeur, 11SL-CC03166 (Cir. Court of St. Louis County, May 12, 2012).
Part 3: Impact of appellate cases on Kansas City, Missouri’s red light camera ticketing system