AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel
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Parking Tickets and Traffic Offenses
A group of drivers sued a city and the company which installed and operated an Automatic Traffic Enforcement (ATE) system, claiming that the system violated their right to procedural due process, their fundamental right to travel, a state statute, and caused unjust enrichment for the city and company. Drivers who had not received citations from the system had no standing to assert their claims. While six drivers had standing to bring procedural-due-process claims because the allegations that the ATE procedure was inadequate sufficiently established an injury in fact for standing, they did not state a violation of their procedural-due-process rights, did not allege a violation of the right to travel under the Privileges and Immunities Clause, and there was no Equal Protection violation. Hughes v. City of Cedar Rapids, #15-2703, 840 F.3d 987 (8th Cir. 2016).
A woman claimed that a state trooper started harassing her in 2007, tailgating her in an off-duty vehicle, parking behind her, and questioning her about her driving. When the officer and the female motorist's adult son exchanged heated words, the officer at first allegedly stated that the motorist would receive an additional ticket because of her son's statements and then left without issuing any tickets when the son stated that he would complain to the officer's supervisor. After the motorist complained abut this, the officer, hours later, arrived at her home and delivered three tickets. After her son mentioned the alleged harassment at a restaurant, the trooper, accompanied by a fellow officer, again returned to the home, resulting in a confrontation with the woman's son-in-law. A federal appeals court ruled that a First Amendment retaliatory prosecution claim was time barred as it was filed two years after the tickets were delivered to the woman, which was the date the claim accrued, rather than the later date of the trial when she was convicted on the tickets. The trial court erred, however, in dismissing a Fourth Amendment constructive seizure complaint against the trooper on the basis that the plaintiff failed to specifically identify in that claim that she was proceeding under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 rather than merely under the Fourth Amendment. Smith v. Campbell, #14-1468, 782 F.3d 93 (2nd Cir. 2015).
After a man parked his car on the street outside his suburban home in violation of an ordinance, an officer placed a parking ticket face down under his windshield wiper. The ticket included the man's name, birth date, sex, weight, height, driver's license number, an outdated address, and the vehicle identification number and description of his car. He then filed an attempted class action lawsuit under the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. 2721, forbidding the disclosure of personal information obtained in connection with motor vehicle records except for specified uses "in connection with any civil, criminal, administrative, or arbitral proceeding" and "use by any government agency, including any court or law enforcement agency, in carrying out its functions." Upholding the rejection of the privacy claim, a federal appeals court noted that there was no evidence that anyone had ever taken a parking ticket off a car windshield in the suburb in question and used the personal information on the ticket for any purpose. It stated that, had the municipality made all the information present on the ticket accessible to the public on the Internet or placed "highly sensitive" information, such as the motorist's Social Security number, on the ticket, there might have been a greater risk of a "nontrivial" invasion of privacy that outweighed any benefit to law enforcement. Senne v. Village of Palatine, #13-3671, 2015 U.S. App. Lexis 7118 (7th Cir.).
A class action was filed challenging the issuing and form of automated speeding tickets issued under a state speed camera statute. Rejecting the plaintiffs' claims, a federal appeals court found that service of the speeding citations via first class mail satisfied due process, that the automated citation process used did not violate due process, and that the citations could be used as evidence at trial. Any flaws in the enforcement process could have been raised in the state court, where there was an adequate opportunity to do so, but the drivers failed to raise such issues there. Snider International Corporation v. Town of Forest Heights, #12-2490, 739 F.3d 140 (4th Cir. 2014).
A village was entitled to summary judgment on claims that information placed on its parking tickets violated the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act. While the information listed on the tickets was a "disclosure, it was an acceptable use of the information for purposes of identification and verification of the person to whom the ticket was issued. The court commented, however, that not all the information on the tickets may be necessary, while not spelling out which information might be problematic. Senne v. Palatine, #1:10-cv-05434, 2013 U.S. Dist. Lexis 168677 (N.D. Ill.). For prior opinions, see Senne v. Village of Palatine, #10-3243, 695 F.3d 597 (7th Cir. en banc. 2012), cert. denied, #12-573, 133 S. Ct. 2850, 186 L. Ed. 2d 909, 2013 U.S. Lexis 4737.
A police officer placing a parking ticket underneath a car's windshield wiper blade may have violated the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act. The court noted that the ticket disclosed the full name, address, date of birth, sex, height, weight, and driver's license number of the driver, with all that information obtained from state records. "The possibilities for identity theft are obvious," the court stated, and the municipality failed to show how the disclosed information being stated on the ticket played a role in its law enforcement efforts so as to come within an exception to the statute. The court rejected arguments by the municipality that the plaintiff motorist was required to prove that someone other than himself actually viewed the information on the ticket on his vehicle in order to pursue his claim under the statute. Senne v. Village of Palatine, #10-3243, 2012 U.S. App. Lexis 16328 (7th Cir. en banc.).
A car owner received, over a 14 month period, 24 "bogus" traffic tickets and made seven trips to court to get them dismissed. He claimed that this harassment may have stemmed from his estranged wife's relationship with certain police officers. A federal appeals court ruled that the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged a "class-of-one" equal protection claim by stating that he had been intentionally singled out for these tickets, which served no conceivable legitimate purpose. He was not required to show that there were other similarly situated individuals who had not been subject to similar harassment. Due process claims were properly dismissed, however, as the writing of "bogus" traffic tickets did not rise to the level of conduct which shocks the conscience. Geinosky v. City of Chicago, #11-1448, 675 F.3d 743 (7th Cir. 2012).
A motorist's claim that a city's action, in fining him an amount for a traffic violation under a city ordinance that was in excess of the amount of the fine authorized by state statutes for the same offense violated his federal constitutional rights was rejected by a federal appeals court. Under a city ordinance, the motorist was fined $150 for careless driving, along with a $15 amount for court costs and a $1 administrative fee, while state law punishes careless driving with a $30 fine. The city stopped the practice after the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled in Sauby v. City of Fargo, #20070202, 747 N.W.2d 65 (2008) that doing this violated state law. Despite this, the previous imposition of a higher fine on the plaintiff did not violate constitutional due process, equal protection, or the Eighth Amendment prohibition on excessive fines. Mills v. City of Grand Forks, #09-2119, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 15308 (8th Cir.).
Motorists in Cleveland, Ohio sued the city, challenging the decision to enforce a traffic camera ordinance, which involves taking pictures of motorists who run red lights at certain locations, against drivers who lease, and do not own, their cars. They argued that such enforcement of traffic citations against them amounted to an unconstitutional taking of property without just compensation, in light of the fact that the ordinance did not originally provide for liability on the part of lessees. The ordinance was subsequently amended to provide for lessee liability. The lawsuit involved citations the city enforced against lessees prior to the amendment of the ordinance. A federal appeals court ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to assert a constitutional claim under the Takings Clause of the U.S. or Ohio Constitution, since the ordinance in question did not aim at the seizure of or "otherwise impair" an "identifiable" fund of money. The court did, however, order further proceedings on the plaintiffs' claim that such enforcement of the traffic camera ordinance unjustly enriched the city in violation of state law, which the trial court had not analyzed. McCarthy v. City of Cleveland, #09-4149, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 23203 (6th Cir.).
A Tennessee motorist filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a city's court processing fee for those charged with running red lights based on photographs of their cars taken by a company that forwarded the photos to the city, which then issued a citation and assessed a $50 fine. Under the city's ordinance, motorists who choose to challenge the citation and fine are informed that, if they chose to do so, they will be assessed a $67.50 court processing fee. A federal appeal court ruled that the plaintiff motorist, while having standing to challenge the citation as improper because the processing fee amounted to more than the possible fine, had an "unripe" claim, because the city, at oral argument, had agreed to give her a hearing. Only after she actually attended such a hearing could she have "suffered a hardship" allowing her to go forwards with her claims. Williams v. Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., #08-5545, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 21637 (6th Cir.).
An increase in the initial $23 parking ticket fine to $519, which occurred as the result of the assessment of a $16 per month late penalty fee, did not violate the excessive fines provision of the Constitution, despite the plaintiff's argument that he never received the initial ticket. The city did mail him an additional notice of the ticket, and he failed to pay it. The growth of the amount due could be attributed to his failure to pay or contest the ticket, not to any unconstitutional action by the city in designing the late fee penalty. The court also rejected the plaintiff's due process claim, finding that he received adequate notice of his right to contest the ticket and of the late fee penalty. Wemhoff v. City of Baltimore, Civil Action No. CCB-08-1209, 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 104398 (D. Md.).
A city system involving capturing photos of cars running red lights or making illegal turns, and then imposing fines on the owners of such vehicles, regardless of whether or not they were the driver, did not violate the due process or equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. There is, the court noted, no "fundamental right" to avoid being seen on a public street or to run a red light, nor did the "modest" $90 fine involve any fundamental property right. It is rational to fine the vehicle owner rather than the driver, since the driver could blame others, as it is likely that the driver would not be revealed in the photographs. Idris v. City of Chicago, No. 08-1363, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 42 (7th Cir.).
A police officer had probable cause to stop a motorist and issue a citation for driving without headlights on after sundown and without wearing a seat belt. The motorist himself did not deny that he had been stopped on the date, so that the fact that the defendant officers' motion for summary judgment stated the wrong date for the incident, stating a date in which the motorist had been out of the state, did not matter. The plaintiff also did not deny driving after sundown with his headlights off and without wearing his seatbelt, which was broken. Austin v. Gaskins, No. 4:07cv420, 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 66153 (N.D. Fla.).
The legality of automated red light enforcement traffic citations and contingency fee contracts with private providers was upheld by an intermediate California appellate court. In re Red Light Photo Enforcement Cases, #D048882, 2008 Cal. App. Lexis 873 (4th Dist.).
City's action in imposing late fees for those who do not timely pay parking tickets, even if unauthorized by any municipal ordinance, was not a violation of federally protected civil rights, such as due process. Tickets did provide recipients of the time within which to pay and the amount of the late fee, and the city's action did not involve any fundamental rights or constitute conduct shocking to the court's conscience. Rector v. City and County of Denver, #02-1434, 348 F.3d 935 (10th Cir. 2003). [N/R]
Placing parking tickets on illegally parked cars was sufficient to provide due process notice to vehicle owner of the claimed parking violations and of the fact that accumulating three unpaid and unappealed such tickets could result in the placing of an immobilizing "wheel boot" on the auto. Plaintiff showed, however, that the city failed to provide a "meaningful opportunity" to be heard before or after the placement of such a "boot" on his car, since the tickets did not explain how to contest the validity of the placement or explain how and when the "boot" could be removed. Individual defendants, however, including the city's mayor, a police officer, and a parking monitor, were entitled to qualified immunity from liability because the law in the area of "wheel booting" was not clearly established. Gross v. Carter, 265 F. Supp. 2d 995 (W.D. Ark. 2003). [N/R]
Vehicle owner had no privacy interest in auto parked on city street; no warrant was required to seize vehicle after default judgment issued for failure to pay parking fines. Administrative parking violation notices provided were sufficient to give vehicle owner notice of available pre- and post-deprivation remedies. Rackley v. City of New York, 186 F. Supp. 2d 466 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). [2002 LR Jul]
A city's delay in setting a hearing date for a number of weeks after a motorist's car was towed for alleged parking violations, despite the owner's "insistent and immediate" demand for a hearing violated both a California state statute, Ann. Cal. Vehicle Code Sec. 22852, and constitutional due process, as clearly established twenty-five years before in Stypmann v. City & County of San Francisco, 557 F.2d 1338 (9th Cir. 1977).
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