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Palm Coast Back-Pats Its Grim Luck: Red-Light Camera Suit Dismissed After Plaintiff’s Death

| July 23, 2015

Lawsuit sunset. (Stef)

Lawsuit sunset. (Stef)

There are various ways of winning a lawsuit: you can get a jury verdict. You can settle. The plaintiff could drop the lawsuit.

Or the plaintiff could die.

In the long-standing and expensive lawsuit against Palm Coast over its illegal, pre-2010 red-light camera scheme, the city lucked out in the grimmest way: William Mayfield, the man who sued Palm Coast and American Traffic Solutions—the company that runs the scheme in the city—in 2009 after getting a red-light camera ticket, died. He could have been replaced on the lawsuit. He wasn’t—at least not in time, as Palm Coast sees it. Palm Coast moved to have the suit dismissed as a result.

On Monday, Circuit Judge Michael Orfinger dismissed the suit in a four-page order.

In view of the impending order, City Attorney William Reischmann and Palm Coast City Council member Jason DeLorenzo—the council’s strongest opponent of red-light cameras–were in self-congratulatory mode last week, because Palm Coast, unlike American Traffic Solutions, had decided not to settle the case previously.

That turned into an almost certain mistake once the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the pre-2010 red-light camera scheme was, indeed, illegal. In its settlement, ATS had agreed to reimburse eligible drivers. By not settling, Palm Coast had not reimbursed a dime. The Supreme Court case would have likely compelled the city to reach some pay-out agreement.

But by then Mayfield had died, and the city fought on, choosing a different track: absent a plaintiff, there was no lawsuit.

“We decided as a body not to settle and saved the taxpayers at least hundreds of thousands of dollars,” DeLorenzo said.

“At this point, that looks like a pretty good decision,” Reischmann said.

The city, of course, “saved” taxpayers no such amount: By the time the Legislature legalized red light cameras in 2010, Palm Coast’s illegal scheme had collected $1.76 million, with $562,280 going to ATS. The rest remained in the city’s hands. And the cost of litigation was also steep.

Still, Palm Coast lucked out.

“I can’t promise you that that lawsuit is gone away forever, but we feel good, we feel rewarded,” Reischmann said. “This is a good development from the standpoint of the city and the taxpayer. Is it the final word on that lawsuit, I can’t make you that promise.”

Click On:

William Mayfield sued in August 2009. Palm Coast’s program had been running two years at the time. The suit was then amended twice. Mayfield claimed “unjust enrichment” against Palm Coast and ATS and argued the city’s ordinance was “invalid,” a contention that would be sustained, through a different case, by the Florida Supreme Court in 2014: the court ruled that cities like Palm Coast that had instituted red-light camera programs before 2010 through their code enforcement departments had done so illegally, because state law did not give local government authority to run such programs: only the state Department of Transportation could operate red-light cameras.

In 2010, the Legislature passed the so-called Mark Wandall Act, which allowed local governments to run red-light camera programs of their own. But that still left pre-Mark Wandall programs up for litigation. (Post-Mark Wandall Act programs have been relentlessly litigated too, which caused Palm Coast finally last year to scale back a program that had grown to dozens of cameras around town.)

So the Mayfield suit continued. In February 2012, ATS settled. Palm Coast did not. ATS made $169,000 available (about a third of what its portion of the fines had collected in Palm Coast until then) for reimbursements to once-ticketed drivers who filed valid claims. The most each driver could get back per ticket was $8.50. ATS was settling similar suit in several jurisdictions across Florida, perhaps in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling.

Then Mayfield died (on Dec. 17, 2012). The lawyers pressing his case tried to fight the city’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit. At one point they claimed that the city improperly served notice of the death, which caused the lawyers to miss the window in which they were supposed to follow up if they wished to substitute a new name. Mayfield’s attorneys called it “excusable neglect.”

The city fought that attempt, saying Mayfield’s lawyers didn’t tell the court of their client’s death for almost two years. Orfinger’s order ruled against “excusable neglect.”

Orfinger noted—as had Reischmann before the council—that though the case against the city was originally presented as a class action suit, no such class was ever certified. That kept Mayfield as the only plaintiff of record.

The red-light camera saga is not over in Palm Coast. Though the city has soured on the cameras, and at one point had approved the placement of 52 of them all over town (the actual peak was 43), the council talked of eliminating them altogether after its program was publicly excoriated by two local judges, then again found to be partly illegal for the way it was being administered, forcing the city to suspend a key part of the program.

But out of fear that ATS would sue the city, the council decided instead, in a concession to ATS, only to scale back the program to five cameras, some of which are not necessarily functioning for now. The city got one concession from ATS: instead of a contract extending to 2019, it was scaled back to 2017.

The city is not clear of litigation. It fully expects that even its current scheme, no matter how many cameras were in place, will be the subject of further lawsuits, likely ensuring that what “savings” DeLorenzo referred to will, when the final bottom line of Palm Coast cameras’ cost to taxpayers is tallied, prove illusory.

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16 Responses for “Palm Coast Back-Pats Its Grim Luck: Red-Light Camera Suit Dismissed After Plaintiff’s Death”

  1. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    “We feel good, we feel rewarded” — city attorney William Reischmann, upon hearing of the death someone involved in litigation against the city. Stay classy.

  2. markingthedays says:

    Here’s a revolutionary idea. Don’t run red lights.

    • rst says:

      I agree with you markingthedays. I think people should understand the red light cameras help reduce traffic crashes, are used in criminal investigations (looking for getaway vehicles, hit and run vehicles, etc.) The have certain parameters built into the system not to “hook” every red light runner, i.e., certain mph has to be driven while running the light. My question is: don’t we have more to complain about other than a system put in place to reduce crashes (injuries) assist law enforcement with investigations (traffic crashes included)? Don’t you think more traffic crash court cases are solved via the video? Oh shit! They have me on camera! Now I have to tell the truth… go figure…

      • Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

        They don’t reduce crashes. See for example DHSMV’s own study, which can be found linked in this article:

        • rst says:

          Samuel L. Bronkowitz: According to your own link: “The DHSMV called the stats “inconclusive,” and ran a second report based on state crash reporting. While this report showed fatalities were down at RLC intersections, overall crashes were up. The agency called this report inconclusive as well.”

          Fatalities were down at red light camera intersections. We as crash investigators (and you should as well) do not care about the fender bender crashes. The important variable is loss of life and serious bodily injuries. Stow your anger and come to the side of the caring, logical, and reasonable.

          ps: the next time a camera solves a serious crime, i.e., domestic terrorist, armed robbery, etc., chime in…

          • Nancy N says:

            Fatalities being down at red light camera intersections doesn’t necessarily mean that the cause of the decrease is the presence of the red light cameras. Two events co-occurring does not mean that one caused the other.

            If you look at the details of the DHSMV statistics you will see that many of the localities were reporting decreases in crashes at intersections that DID NOT have red light cameras. If the decrease in crashes is city wide, then it could be due to population changes or changes in number of miles people are driving due to the economy or other factors.

            Accident rates, in general, have been steadily decreasing for years on U.S. roads. There is no more evidence in these statistics or reports that specifically ties any reported decrease to the presence of cameras, than there is to the occurrence of nights with a full moon, or the color of cars that people drive.

      • Mark says:

        How many traffic crashes have been reduced?

    • Anon says:

      There you go markingthedays, trying to be logical. What is wrong with you!!!!!

  3. KB63 says:

    Funny how they have now “saved” the taxpayer money and are patting themselves on the back but those very same tax payers are the ones who got hit with illegal, expensive, pay up or have your license suspended, tickets in the first place. Really should be ashamed of themselves and not touting how wonderful this outcome is.

  4. My Daily Rant says:

    Palm Coast has in the last 15 years been run by a bunch of crooks,and to celebrate a win because of a mans Death, Well that just goes to show the Class of people we have in Charge.Remember the fools enjoying this mans death next election.

  5. Stephen says:

    RLC are nothing more than a FRAUD!

    Most tickets are either right turns on red, or stopping on or over the stop line.

    Heck you don’t even have to “run” a light either as there have been cases of wrongful people accused.

    IT is time to dump the RLC!

    (Note ATS employees have also been known to do “comments” too. This has occurred in other locations ). Ban the Cams on Facebook, Camerafraud on Facebook

  6. Gladfly says:

    The red light camera program has been a bullshit scheme from the very beginning. Scam,scam,scam.

  7. YankeeExPat says:

    This strategy has worked well for the V.A., so I would assume the city is O.K. with the outcome.

  8. Lil Buzzard Bill says:

    Palm Coast has more “vultures” in the city government then Buzzard Creek, Idaho !!!

  9. Nalla C says:

    It is appalling and disgusting to see these people celebrating the outcome of this, when the outcome came because the plaintiff died.

    And why are we all just finding this out when he’s been dead since 2012?? I smell a serious rat here. This whole situation is just obnoxious. The city needs to get rid of these damnable cameras and stop milking the public for crap like “right on red” tickets issued by non-government entities. Anyone crowing “just don’t run red-lights” should be ashamed of themselves, trying to minimize this clearly-unconstitutional state of affairs.

    Don’t get me wrong–running red lights is dangerous. This should be enforced–however, it should be enforced by actual law enforcement officers. Period. If they “don’t have the manpower”, hire more officers and stop whining about how much you have to pay them.

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