8/23/2012Maryland High Court Saves Speed Cameras
Court of Appeals of Maryland goes out of its way to protect speed camera programs in the state by tossing challenge on procedural grounds.
The highest court in Maryland sent speed camera opponents back to the drawing board Tuesday. The Maryland Court of Appeals (the equivalent of the state supreme court) found a class action lawsuit could not be filed to force county governments to follow state law governing the use of speed cameras.
Timothy Leahy, the attorney representing ticketed drivers, had filed the suit in 2008 as a class action arguing Montgomery County and other jurisdictions violate a specific statute banning contingent-fee contracts. The county pays Affiliated Computer Services (ACS, now owned by Xerox) $16.25 per citation. Leahy insisted this was flat-out unlawful.
"If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of Montgomery County, the contractor's fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid," state code section 21-809 states.
Montgomery County was first given authorization to use cameras over the veto of then-Governor Robert L. Ehrlich (R) in 2006 and the grant was later extended to all other jurisdictions in 2009. The motorists argued they have the right as private citizens to pursue a claim against the state government to remedy an illegal act and that the General Assembly took no action to bar such suits. The high court insisted otherwise.
"Section 21-809 does not provide an express or implied private cause of action in tort, for the following reasons," Judge Glenn T. Harrell wrote for the court. "First, Section 21-809 is a general welfare statute that does not benefit a particular class of persons, let alone petitioners. Second, the statute provides a remedy in the district court for challenging speed monitoring system citations... Accordingly, we shall not address their argument that the local governments' contracts with ACS violate Section 21-809(j)."
This essentially eliminated the record developed over four years, leaving camera opponents to start again from scratch fighting their own $40 tickets on an individual basis. The high court pointed out that one of the motorists who was party to the suit had properly filed her claim in district court, but she failed to pay the tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees required to bring her cause before the Court of Appeals.
"She did not prevail in the district court and appealed to the circuit court for Montgomery County," Harrell wrote. "The circuit court concluded ultimately that Montgomery County was the operator of its speed monitoring system and affirmed. Appellate review was not sought."
The court did rule that those who paid their speed cameras have not waived their right to file such a claim in district court, striking down a key argument advanced by the camera industry. The judges also hinted they found Montgomery County's assertion that inserting a line into its contract with ACS stating the firm was not operating the cameras was "dubious." Nonetheless, the court did not go any further into the merits and struck down the class action attempt on the procedural grounds.
"In the face of these concessions and our opinion as to the private cause of action issue, we conclude that petitioners have no basis to obtain equitable or declaratory relief," Harrell wrote.
A copy of the decision is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.