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In a Stinging Defeat for Palm Coast Government, Supreme Court Rules Pre-2010 Red-Light Cameras Illegal

| June 12, 2014

Those who said the red-light cameras were illegal before 2010 were right, the Florida Supreme Court ruled today. (© FlaglerLive)

Those who said the red-light cameras were illegal before 2010 were right, the Florida Supreme Court ruled today. (© FlaglerLive)

The Florida Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision today declared illegal schemes such as Palm Coast’s that operated red-light camera systems before July 2010, when the Florida Legislature expressly allowed and codified such schemes. The court did not address the legality of red-light cameras after July 2010, as that question was not before the justices. So post-2010 red-light camera schemes remain legal and in full force.

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What that means to Palm Coast, however, is that every red-light camera ticket issued between 2007 and July 2010 was illegal, and may have to be reimbursed.

Palm Coast and its red-light camera contractor, American Traffic Solutions, were actually sued over the ticketing scheme prior to the 2010 law. ATS chose to settle with drivers, paying back to those who applied for reimbursements a share of their fine. Palm Coast refused to settle, choosing instead to take its chance and wait on the Supreme Court’s decision.

The city may rue that decision.

According to Palm Coast’s finance department, the city collected a total of $1.76 million in red-light camera revenue in the years before the so-called Mark Wandall Act, which codified red-light camera systems statewide. Of that, $562,280 went to ATS. That left $1.19 million to Palm Coast.

The city may now have to pay back that money.

The majority decision today does not specifically address the financial schemes of cities, and whether or not they would have to pay back what they took in. But inn a footnote in her dissent, one of the justices spelled out that the 2010 law had not made the issues in the local cases “moot, particularly given the significant amounts of money that were collected by the cities of Orlando and Aventura pursuant to their then-existing municipal ordinances — which the majority has decided must now be returned to the individuals who violated these ordinances.”

Precedent in other cases where ordinances are invalidated also suggests that when transactions are involved, the party levying a fine or a cost under an illegal ordinance is responsible for paying that money back. The Palm Coast City Council is aware of that very strong likelihood, and has discussed it in the past with its attorney.

Today’s decision is only the latest in a series of blows against Palm Coast, resulting directly from the city’s attachment to its red-light cameras, that have successively damaged the city’s reputation and sense of fairness.

The decision today was the result of two lower-court decisions that had reached the supreme court from different appeals courts. In a case from  Aventura, the Third District Court of Appeal ratified the red-light camera scheme there, saying that local governments had the right, under home rule, to run such cameras. In a case from Orlando, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reached the exact opposite conclusion, saying that no, state law explicitly pre-empted local governments from establishing red-light camera schemes, because the law specifically reserved such traffic rules to itself.

Justice Charles T. Canady

Justice Charles T. Canady

Justice Charles T. Canady, writing for the majority, said that the Fifth District had it right, and that the pre-2010 “ordinances are not valid.” Canady, the most conservative member of the court, was joined by Chief Justice Ricky Polston, Justices Fred Lewis, Jorge Labarga and James Perry. Justices Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince—the court’s two most liberal justices—dissented.

The majority decision was brief but narrowly focused on state power at the expense of local jurisdictions, when that state power is spelled out in state law. “[M]unicipal ordinances must yield to state statutes,” Canady wrote emphatically, whether the “pre-emption” of local ordinances is explicit or implied.

“Preemption of local ordinances by state law may, of course, be accomplished by express preemption—that is, by a statutory provision stating that a particular subject is preempted by state law or that local ordinances on a particular subject are precluded,” Canady wrote. “ Preemption by state law, however, ‘need not be explicit so long as it is clear that the legislature has clearly preempted local regulation of the subject.,’” he wrote, citing a 1989 court decision out of Miami. “Implied preemption is found where the state legislative scheme of regulation is pervasive and the local legislation would present the danger of conflict with that pervasive regulatory scheme,” that decision stated.

Pariente, in her dissent, took the opposite view, siding with the Third District in the name of local control, or home rule. “The majority’s holding unnecessarily broadens this Court’s interpretation of legislative preemption, while, at the same time, limiting the home rule authority granted to municipal governments by the Florida Constitution. I would quash the decision of the Fifth District Court of Appeal,” Pariente wrote. She said she would “adopt the well-reasoned opinion of the Third District Court of Appeal in City of Aventura v. Masone, 89 So. 3d 233 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011), and hold that the red light camera ordinances enacted by the cities of Orlando and Aventura prior to 2010 were proper exercises of their municipal home rule authority. “

Canady cited explicit passages in state law that relate to traffic rule-making. That law leaves room for local governments to set up their own rules and schemes. But it very clearly defines that room, spelling out the areas local governments may address. Otherwise, the law states in a passage Canady emphasized, “It is unlawful for any local authority to pass or to attempt to enforce any ordinance in conflict with the provisions of this chapter.”

In essence, Canady said of red-light camera ordinances in Orlando and Aventura—and, by extension, in Palm Coast and other jurisdictions that imposed such cameras before July 2010—“ Each of the ordinances creates a municipal code enforcement system for the disposition of red light violations that is entirely separate from the enforcement system established under chapters 316 and 318,” the two chapters in state law relevant to traffic rules.

“The prohibition and punishment of red light violations are matters ‘covered by’” state law, Canady concluded, while the section proponents of red-light cameras pointed to does not “expressly authorize” local ordinances on those matters. Nothing in state law, the majority ruled, “provides that municipalities are granted the authority to enact an enforcement regime different from the enforcement regime applicable under the provision of section 316.075(4) that red light violations are ‘punishable pursuant to chapter 318.’ And nothing in section 316.008(1)(w) creates an exception from the express preemption imposed by section 318.121 of any fines other than the penalties imposed as provided in chapter 318.”

The full decision is below.

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18 Responses for “In a Stinging Defeat for Palm Coast Government, Supreme Court Rules Pre-2010 Red-Light Cameras Illegal”

  1. Matt Christopher says:

    You reap what you sow. Couldnt have happened to a better group of greedy people. Council and Landon built this. Be sure to thank them.

    • Genie says:

      Actually, I believe it was Mr. Lewis and Mr. Meeker who brought this up on the Council, with Landon’s approval of course.

      I’ll bet the vote was unanimous.

  2. Tom Jacks says:

    Everyone who received a red light camera ticket before 2010 needs to show up at city hall DEMANDING their money back NOW plus interest. Let’s all watch Jim Landon try to spin this financial disaster away, after all its not his fault (nothing ever is). Just more bad decisions by a truly pathetic city manager and his yes men city council.

  3. Enough says:

    I want my money back …WITH INTEREST !!! NOW or lose your license !!!!

  4. Carl says:

    Hopefully this is the last push needed for them to stop ripping us off and return the traffic lights back to normal fuel saving running operations….. where we are not stopping at each and every light wasting twice as much gas to get across town, and return the yellow lights to normal times as well so your not jamming on breaks or having to race to get through intersection in a split second , if they`ve done anything… they made the roads more dangerous, especially at corner where Steak n Shake is, soon as that red arrow goes green for right turn….. people shoot out weather its safe or not , don`t even look to see if traffic is coming down parkway, just assume the arrow says they can turn …so they turn right in front of my truck almost every night , have to change lanes multiple times cause they don`t stay in right lane… they come right across other two lanes , they not only get you stuck at every light but lights are over 4 minutes long and people get inpatient and just go, or they are jamming on breaks approaching green lights in fear they will turn red, its much worse then any red light runners…. if that was even a problem to begin with , I never encountered people coming into my path until the cams came…….. just a money making scheme, by a greedy city counsel that needs to go along with Mayor McCheese and his 4 McDonalds

  5. El Geezer says:

    Hopefully a domino-effect will ensue where these unfriendly, obtrusive cameras will be taken down.
    I’d rather see more deputies on the road with a low tolerance for red-light-running and speeding motorists.

    But the cameras are there as a revenue generator, so you won’t see the extra deputies
    if they come down. To duplicate the camera’s results – PC would have to order the deputies
    to take money from us at gunpoint. I can’t see them doing that.

    Palm Coast, tsk tsk…

  6. fruitcake says:

    The city will find a way to weasel its way out of paying the money back not to mention the tax
    dollars they will waste on more legal fees!

  7. Freddy says:

    Once again our inept council members and city manager has put the city residents in financial harm’s way having to refund over a million dollars.

  8. Genie says:

    Do we have an attorney who would like to step forward and represent the citizens of Palm Coast in a class action suit against the city?

  9. rickg says:

    Gee what a bummer… cities can’t just write business for bogus red light cameras… I feel so bad for them…

  10. Charles "Bub" Robson says:

    Get you CHECK WRITING MACHINE warmed up Palm Coast. The citizens and non citizens want their money back now, with interest, for the illegal harm (RLC) have caused. Now we wait for the U.S. Supreme court to deliver the final knockout blow to the Cash register justice that is totally unconstitutional.

  11. Mike says:

    It only pertains to summonses issued prior to 2010. Palm Coast and ATS settled with me and others a while back. I received a big $20. What happened to the rest of the $125? What a feakin legal scam. Orlando Mayor said the court decision did not answer if they had to pay back the 4 million plus money. What kind of an answer is that. Black is white and white is black.

  12. Obama 2014 says:

    I like having the camera’s up if someone runs a solid red light or if an actual normal accident with a drive off happens. Also they are helpful with Amber and Silver alerts. Making benign right turns on red or just catching the tail end of a yellow light is not worth the time and trouble these camera’s cause. It has taken almost $1580 out of the pockets of 7 members of my family and only one was a true violation and could have received a ticket . I saw the yellow light but I had a truck in front of me and by the time I saw the light I had to run it because I had someone behind me with an smaller car was right on my tail. IF I stopped, I would have caused an accident. The video shows it but it wasn’t worth fighting. Making turns near the Hospital and near Goodwill has have been the others. If refunds are sent out I will be sure to spend it out of Palm Coast on dinner in St Augustine or maybe a baseball game in Jacksonville just to spite them.

  13. PJ says:

    Mybe the City Manager will learn you can’t tax the people twice. Here is his chance to pull the plug on this con. If it is illegal then the contract can be void.

    Wake up landon it is over now don’t spend out tax money trying to defend it .

    Do the right thing “tear down that wall” oh sorry wrong quote “remove them cameras Mr. Landon”……….PJ

  14. Brian says:

    Do you honestly believe that – if the city pays back the fines collected during this time period – it won’t just make us pay somewhere else? This is going to hurt those of us who live in Palm Coast one way or another….so thanks in advance.

    • Genie says:

      @ Brian, Actually those who don’t vote, the majority of the population here in Palm Coast, are responsible for the bad government we keep in office here.

      How else are we to stop them? Most could care less. Apathy is expensive to us all, on more than one level.

  15. Chris says:

    I’ve been mentally scarred because of these red light cameras. I find that even when I’m driving in another county in this state or any other state that doesn’t have red light cameras, I’m slamming on the brakes for a yellow light & make sure I stop before the “white line”! I have to apologize to my passengers while they hit the dash. Then I get honked at because I won’t turn on a red light UNTIL I’ve come to a full & complete stop & have held that position for at least 6 seconds even though it’s clear to go…..needless to say… no one wants to ride with me, or they suggest that they drive instead

  16. Dawn says:

    You all will probable rip my head off for this but, I agree with this cameras. My husband has had to pay the fees three times. They sent a video link and pictures. He clearly ran the light. What if your wife and clods where killed because some idiot ran a light. If the cameras weren’t there and someone van got crushed, the first thing everyone would say is why aren’t there cameras. I don’t know about the whole it was times shorter and all that. But don’t run the red light if you don’t want to pay the fine. ( I am guilty too of running red lights. Just never in PC cause I know it will cost me) please keep my beatings PG folks. I’m just stating my two cents lol :)

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