3/25/2021Louisiana: Federal Judge Wants City To Refund Illegal Traffic Camera Fines
Federal court asserts jurisdiction over a case that seeks to force New Orleans, Louisiana to refund illegally collected photo radar tickets.
New Orleans, Louisiana, for more than a decade has been trying to dodge repayment of illegally issued speed camera fines. In a ruling earlier this month, US District Judge Susie Morgan sided for a second time with motorists, confirming that this is a matter of federal jurisdiction. The case seeks a federal court order directing the city to finally refund the $25 million in illicit traffic fines. In a conference call on Wednesday, however, Judge Morgan refused to go so far as to certify the matter as a class action.
The state court system had issued a final judgment -- allowed to stand by the Louisiana Supreme Court in 2019 -- that confirmed tickets issued by American Traffic Solutions (now Verra Mobility) between 2008 and 2010 under the Department of Public Works (DPW) were invalid because the city's own home rule charter required such fines to be handled by the police department.
Since then, New Orleans has done everything it could to avoid issuing refunds, refusing the 2018 order issued by a Louisiana trial court. After the high court rejected the city's last appeal, and the city still refused to pay, lawyers for the traffic camera victims turned to the federal courts, claiming the refusal amounted to a taking under the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. Judge Morgan agreed, citing an appellate ruling in a similar case.
"The city now argues its refund of the plaintiffs' property would have made those funds 'unavailable for other purposes, such as public health and public safety expenditures,'" Judge Morgan wrote. "It is clear the private property was taken for a public purpose... The Fifth Circuit's opinion in Vogt convinces the court the plaintiffs have made a Fifth Amendment takings claim under Section 1983... and the city's motion to dismiss must be denied."
Judge Morgan concluded that federal courts have an obvious interest in enforcing a civil rights case such as this, and that any potential judgment could include paying the significant lawyers' fees that have accumulated in the course of the litigation. New Orleans on Friday asked Judge Morgan for permission for an appeal of her ruling in the middle of the case, which would further delay proceedings. She is taking the request under consideration.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.