ORLANDO – Anyone ticketed in southern Florida after encountering a red-light camera may have recourse after an appeals court order last month, an Orlando attorney who set a precedent for getting out of Florida tickets earlier this year said during a recent interview.
"It means that there might be recourse for people who paid a fine in a municipality where the system is set up unlawfully," Orlando attorney Kelli B. Hastings said during a Florida Record email interview. "They might be able to sue American Traffic Solutions and the local government to get their money back. However, in practical terms, if someone isn't part of the class-action lawsuit, chances are that the cost of suing ATS and the local government outweigh the gains."
There is, however, opportunities for ticketed individuals in numbers, Hastings said.
"This case opens the door for more class-action lawsuits against municipalities and vendors who issue red-light tickets," she said. "It means they can't hide behind sovereign immunity and expect that the case will be dismissed."
Red-light camera tickets in southern Florida are something Hastings knows a great deal about. Hastings is known for the case Hastings v. city of Orlando, which in February set a precedent for getting out of Florida tickets.
Hastings is also known as the yoga lawyer because she frequently travels to India to study yoga.
With a very few exceptions, most southern Florida cities have abandoned the use of red-light cameras pending the outcome of many pieces of litigation filed against the devices. On Aug. 31, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order denying sovereign immunity in a Florida red light camera case. The order didn't comment about whether the red light systems are legal, illegal, right or wrong.
"The 11th Circuit essentially ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to overturn the U.S. District Court's denial of the defendants' motions to dismiss because the order on those motions was a non-final order," Hastings said.
Defendants in the case had filed motions in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, asking that court to dismiss the class action lawsuit based on sovereign immunity, Hastings said.
"The district court denied the motions and the defendants appealed to the 11th Circuit," she said. "The 11th Circuit said the lower court's opinion stands, because the 11th Circuit does not have jurisdiction to overturn the district court because the order below is non-final."
It was premature because the appeal came prior to a final determination of whether damages will be awarded and, if so, how much. Hastings said.
"Thus, the district court's order allowing the class-action lawsuit to go forward stands and the defendants have no further recourse on this issue until the case is decided on its merits," she said.
It is a controversy that is not without those insisting that red-light cameras are a good thing. Officials in Tamarac, one of the cities on the long list of defendant southern Florida municipalities, say they've netted positive results in the three years the program has operated that. In July, city commissioners voted, as part of their consent agenda, to extend its contract with its Arizona-based vendor, American Traffic Solutions, into 2020, which makes Tamarac one of a relative few cities in the state that still use the devices.
American Traffic Solutions was the lead defendant before the 11th Circuit and also is so named in much of the litigation now before various courts.
At least one defendant can claim a win in at least one bit of the ongoing litigation. Florida's 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled on July 27 in favor of the city of Aventura and its red-light camera program. That ruling, which overturned a lower court ruling that had gone against Aventura, rejected a motorist's claims that the south Florida city gave too much authority to its third-party vendor, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, which also operates that city's red-light camera program.
The order issued by the 11th Circuit isn't likely to prompt an appeal to the Supreme Court, Hastings said.
"The case isn't likely to be appealed again right now because the order denying defendants' motions to dismiss is a non-final order," Hastings said. "A court higher than the 11th Circuit is going to have the same jurisdiction problem the 11th Circuit had when looking at the appeal."
Once the case moves forward to be heard on its merits and the lower court decides whether to impose damages, then a final order could be issued that could be appealed back to the 11th Circuit, Hastings said.
"We will have to wait and see what happens now that the case will be moving forward in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District," she said.