Phelps Dunbar Attorneys Secure Affirmation in Federal Traffic Camera AppealNEW ORLEANS – Jun 28, 2012 – Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously upheld the decision of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana that red-light and speeding traffic cameras are legal and constitutional, and may therefore remain in use throughout the City of New Orleans. This ruling is among multiple recent rulings in appellate courts that affirm the constitutionality of traffic cameras in cities across the U.S.
On appeal, Phelps Dunbar attorneys Harry Rosenberg, Allen C. Miller and Jessica Coco represented defendant American Traffic Solutions, Inc., the private contractor hired by the City of New Orleans to install and maintain the traffic cameras.
The plaintiffs raised three issues in their appeal of U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle’s initial ruling in favor of the City of New Orleans and its contractor, American Traffic Solutions.
The first issue was whether the city ordinance that authorizes the City to operate the traffic cameras imposes criminal or civil penalties, as the plaintiffs had claimed that the penalties issued were criminal, and thus, illegal. The ordinance repeatedly states that the penalties are civil, but the penalties still could have been considered criminal if they were “sufficiently punitive in purpose or effect.” However, the appellate court found that only one of the seven factors used by the U.S. Supreme Court to define penalties supported the plaintiff’s argument that the penalties were criminal. Therefore, the appellate court held that the penalties were civil in nature, and thus, not illegal.
The second issue raised on appeal was whether the ordinance violated the Ex Post Facto clause of the Constitution. Because the penalties were deemed civil in nature by the court, there was not violation of the Ex Post Facto clause, as the clause only applies to criminal penalties.
The final issue was whether the ordinance afforded due process to those individuals photographed speeding, running red lights or not stopping for school buses. The court agreed with the district court that the ordinance does in fact supply adequate process. According to the court, the fines are relatively minimal, and thus, the private interest that is affected is minor. The court further rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that they are deprived of due process because the hearing officer is not neutral and they are required to file a civil action to challenge the decision of the hearing officer. Finally, the court found that the government’s interest in preventing traffic accidents is greater than any private interest and risk of error.
The court granted Phelps Dunbar's request to publish its opinion on the case on June 27, 2012.
Phelps Dunbar is a regional firm of more than 270 attorneys - in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jackson, Tupelo, and Gulfport, Mississippi; Houston, Texas; Tampa, Florida; Mobile, Alabama; Raleigh, North Carolina; and London, England - serving clients in the Gulf South as well as nationwide and abroad.