On November 5, 2013, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, published its opinion in Edwards v. City of Ellisville, the most recent case in the red light camera ticketing debate. Like many of the other red light camera ticket cases that came before it, the Edwards plaintiffs represented two classes: those who had paid the fine and then sought relief and those who had not paid their fines and whose municipal cases were still pending.
Of the first class who had paid their fines, those plaintiffs made claims that their constitutional rights had been violated, that they had been denied due process, that the City had been unjustly enriched by the payment of fines, and that the city ordinance conflicted with Missouri statutory law, thereby voiding the ordinance. The second class had similar arguments, except that they did not claim unjust enrichment because they had yet to pay fines. The Court basically ruled that the second class, whose cases were still pending in municipal court, should pursue their actions for constitutional violations, etc., at the municipal level. In other words, for the second class of plaintiffs, their legal remedies had yet to be exhausted in the lower level courts.
As to the first class of plaintiffs who had already paid their fines, the Court found that since they had paid the fines and did not challenge the constitutional issues from the outset of their cases at the municipal level, that those issues could not be addressed on appeal. Further, the Court found that the claims sounding in unjust enrichment could not be entertained because the plaintiffs had voluntarily paid the fines and chose not to explore their municipal remedies first. In a similar vein, the Court also found that their due process rights had not been violated because the plaintiffs chose not to avail themselves of possible legal remedies by requesting a court date in municipal court, where they could have challenged the validity of their citations.
The Court then turned its attention to the remaining claim – that the red light ticketing ordinance was inconsistent with State statutes regulating driving offenses. Plaintiffs argued first that the the City lacked police power to enact the ordinance. They argued that since the ordinance constituted a non-moving violation, it bore no relationship to regulating moving traffic for the benefit of public safety. The Court rejected this argument, finding that “ensuring the safe flow of traffic through an intersection ‘is substantially related to the health,safety, and welfare of the public,’ Ellisville’s ordinance may constitute a valid exercise of its police power.” *20.
The second argument Plaintiffs made was that, “the Ordinance is an invalid exercise of Ellisville’s statutory authority to enact ordinances because it is not an additional rule of the road or traffic regulation that is reasonably related to a need or traffic condition, as required by Section 304.120.” The Court rejected this argument as well, holding that, “such an ordinance, if truly enacted for the purpose of regulating traffic, is a type of additional rule of the road Ellisville is authorized to enact under Section 304.120, provided that the Ordinance does not conflict with state law.” *21.
The next argument, which the Court did ultimately agree with the Plaintiffs on, was that, “the Ordinance is void as an invalid exercise of Ellisville’s police power because Ellisville’s true purpose in enacting the Ordinance is to generate revenue rather than to increase safety at intersections.” The Court held that whether, “Ellisville enacted the Ordinance as a proper exercise of its police power as opposed to an unlawful revenue-generating tax measure that falls outside of its police power authority is a fact question that is inappropriate for resolution on a motion to dismiss.” *22. Accordingly, the Court reversed on this issue and would have remanded it back to the lower court in order for Plaintiffs to conduct further discovery on the issue, however, due to the Court’s final holding – that the ordinance conflicted with State law and was therefore void – remand was deemed unnecessary.
Thus, the final argument Plaintiffs made, and were ultimately successful on, was that, “the Ordinance conflicts with Section 304.281, a Missouri statute governing traffic signal violations, and Sections 302.225 and 302.302, Missouri statutes governing the assessment of points on drivers’ licenses for moving violations.” In relevant part, the Court discussed Missouri’s law that, “‘[n]o ordinance shall be valid which contains provisions contrary to or in conflict with’ the state’s traffic regulations. Section 304.120.3. In particular, ‘[a]ny municipal corporation in this state . . . having authority to pass ordinances regulating subjects, matters and things upon which there is a general law of the state . . . shall confine and restrict its jurisdiction and the passage of its ordinances to and in conformity with the state law upon the same subject.’ Section 71.010. A municipal ordinance is void if it conflicts with the general laws of the state. McCollum v. Dir. of Revenue, 906 S.W.2d 368, 369(Mo. banc 1995). *23. If the ordinance allows something which the statute disallows, the ordinance conflicts with State law and is therefore void and unenforceable. The Court then went on to caution Missouri municipalities that, “absent a change in either Missouri state law, or a revision of municipal ordinances to eliminate any conflict between their ordinances and state law, municipal red light camera regulation will continue to run afoul of Section 304.120.3, and will hence be void and unenforceable.” *37.
Because of this opinion, Kansas City, Missouri’s red light camera ticketing system has been suspended indefinitely. Edwards poses an interesting query for lawmakers and attorneys: can a municipality issue a moving violation to a vehicle owner via a camera ticketing system?
That issue will be explored in A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words: Defending Traffic Camera Cases – Part 4.