Local Government

Paul Martin, Esquire

Red-light camera ordinance violates state law and is void. Edwards v. Ellisville, No. 99389 (Mo. App. ED., November 5, 2013), Odenwald, J.

Plaintiffs received “red-light camera” tickets when the vehicles they owned were photographed in a monitored intersection when the controlling traffic light was red, in violation of the city’s ordinance. They filed a multi-count class-action petition seeking (1) a declaratory judgment that the ordinance was unconstitutional and in conflict with state law, and (2) damages based on unconstitutionality of the ordinance and unjust enrichment/money had and received. The trial court dismissed the petition and the plaintiffs appealed.

Held: Reversed in part. The Eastern District upheld the dismissal to the extent that (1) the plaintiffs had paid their fines had thus waived their right to challenge the constitutionality of the ordinance, having had a reasonable opportunity to raise the issue through municipal court, and (2) the plaintiffs could not recover for money had and received or for unjust enrichment, because they paid their fines voluntarily, without being under fraud or duress, and were thus barred from receiving restitution.

The only remaining claim was the declaratory judgment action alleging conflict with state law. The court held that the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the ordinance, because they had been directly and adversely affected due to their payment of the fine, and then found the ordinance in impermissible conflict. The court noted that while the ordinance on its face regulated the presence of vehicles in an intersection controlled by a red light, in effect it regulated the vehicle’s illegal movement. Missouri law made such conduct—running a red light—applicable only to drivers and pedestrians ( § 304.281, RSMo), and further required the reporting of such violations to, and on conviction the assessment of points on drivers’ records by, the Department of Revenue ( §§ 302.225 and 302.302, RSMo). The city’s ordinance conflicted with state law and was void and unenforceable in that it applied to vehicle owners and deemed the violations to be non-moving it.

Editor’s Notes: In reaching this conclusion the court either distinguished or overruled previous decisions of the Eastern District on the same subject matter. The court also did not address whether the plaintiffs had waived the right to challenge the statute by paying their fines rather than raising the issue through a defense in municipal court.