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Class Actions

Updated 11-13-10

 Additional info about appeal decisions in California is on this page.

Oct. 2010:  Class Action Filed Against City of Santa Ana

On Oct. 12, 2010 a class action was filed about Santa Ana's failure to issue warning tickets.

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Aug. 2010:  Class Action Filed Against RedFlex and ATS

On Aug. 19, 2010 a class action was filed about contingency ("cost-neutral") contracts.

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MRCA - Class Actions, Appellate Court Decision

In 2010 two class actions were filed about the stop sign camera tickets issued by the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority, and in 2011 and July 2015 there were decisions by the appellate courts.

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2010:  Statewide Speeding Tickets

In 2010 a RICO case was filed regarding speeding tickets throughout the State.

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2004 - 2010:  In re:  Red Light Photo Enforcement Cases (Review Dismissed)
(The Coordinated Class Action Suit)

On Jan. 7, 2004 the San Diego court announced a proposed partial settlement of the Coordinated Class Action suit mentioned in the article below.  The partial settlement applied to tickets issued  in 1996, 1997, and 1998, in fourteen cities.  For a copy of the court's announcement, click on:  Announcement and Claim Form.
See also Section B of Defect # 10, on the Home page.

Final (Lower Court) Decision in Coordinated Class Action Suit - and Appeal Decision

In April 2006 the San Diego Superior Court handed down its final decision in the coordinated class action suit, and the headline for a widely disseminated article about the decision said, ominously, "Red-light Operating Contracts Ruled Legal."   (San Diego Union Tribune, April 18, 2006.) 

In June 2008 an appeals court decision upheld the lower court's decision - and there were more articles giving the same over-simplified message.  (Later, the case moved to the California Supreme Court, which as of Jan. 2011 still had the issue of publication before it.  See below.)

The situation litigated in the Coordinated Class Action suit was different from that for cities which signed contracts in 2004 or later and which are paying on a per-ticket, percentage of revenue, or cost-neutral basis.  The cases which made up the Coordinated Class Action suit began in 2001, and involved ACS and cities (San Diego, West Hollywood, San Francisco, etc.) which signed pay-per-ticket contracts prior to 2004.  At the time the suit was filed, there was no California law specifically prohibiting pay-per-ticket contracts, so the suit was brought under the general public policy against law enforcement based upon contingency payments to private parties. But beginning Jan. 1, 2004, a new California law - CVC 21455.5(g)
(as of 2013 see VC 21455.5(h)) - made any new contingency contracts for red light cameras explicitly illegal.  In my opinion, now that the legislature has put such specific language into law, a city which signed a pay-per-ticket, percentage or cost-neutral contract after that date is clearly in violation and is likely to become entangled in a future class action suit, one brought just against the "post 2003" cities. See also this web article about the 2008 appeals court decision.

The Coordinated Class Action In the California Supreme Court

Starting July 23, 2008 the Coordinated Class Action was on hold at the California Supreme Court (Case S165425), until review was dismissed in Nov. 2010 (see more details about that action, below).  The Court's summary of the issues was:

Petition for review after the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in a civil action.  The court ordered briefing deferred pending decision in  County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (S163681), which presents the following issue:
May a public entity retain private counsel to prosecute a public nuisance abatement action under a contingent fee agreement?

The County of Santa Clara, along with other government entities, is suing manufacturers of lead paint.  The paint manufacturers have responded by filing a motion objecting to the government's pay-for-performance (contingent) arrangement with its lawyers.
 Here is a portion of one
law firm's comment about Santa Clara:

The Court of Appeal's decision, if not overturned by the Supreme Court, will enable private attorneys with a profit motive to prosecute public claims under the police power of the state.  The Supreme Court's decision will be of extraordinary significance given the increasing use of the public nuisance theory.  The Court of Appeal's decision facilitates this trend by enabling local governments, so long as they profess to retain control of decision-making, to enlist private attorneys on a contingent fee basis to prosecute the government's public nuisance claims in exchange for a share of the "profits" the attorneys can generate from these suits.

Cities' Reactions to the Coordinated Class Action

In Los Angeles:  Here is the City of Los Angeles' reaction to the Coordinated Class Action suit.

In Fairfield:  According to a March 2009 article in the Daily Republic:
Fairfield pulled the plug on the camera in December 2008 because the camera's manufacturer, RedFlex Traffic Systems, was facing legal action.  The case has now reached the California Supreme Court.
City Attorney Greg Stepanicich said the camera... will be in use again once the RedFlex matter has been resolved.

In Upland:  On Mar. 9, 2009, the city council voted to shut the system down.  Ticketing was to cease by June 15.  In the memo recommending that the cameras be removed, the police chief wrote:
"The contract issue is currently under court scrutiny, and, pending the outcome, has the potential to invalidate citations previously issued.  The system appears to have little influence on the number of red light related collisions at monitored intersections.  At times rear end collisions have actually increased."

In Turlock:  According to an article in the May 13, 2009 Turlock Journal, Interim City Manager Gary Hampton said:
"The city attorney and I don't see it being advantageous to the City of Turlock to engage in this effort that could result in us having to expend our valuable financial resources having to defend our red light cameras, at this time."

Dismissal of Review

On Nov. 17, 2010, the Supreme Court dismissed review, under court Rule 8.528(b)(1).  That Rule also says that after an order dismissing review, the Court of Appeal opinion remains unpublished unless the Supreme Court orders otherwise.  In Dec. 2010 Redflex petitioned for publication.

More Class Actions?

I can suggest some other class actions. 

There is Loma Linda, which issued approx. 4000 tickets during a time their yellow lights were too short. 

History:  A General Article from 2003

T i c k e t  M a s t e r s

Several suits are challenging the use of red-light cameras

P a m  S m i t h
T h e  R e c o r d e r

Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but hundreds of San Francisco drivers say photos can't prove they ran a red light.

Automatic cameras used in San Francisco since 1996 to catch drivers who run red lights are under attack in a criminal case and a handful of civil cases around the state.

In a consolidated criminal case before Commissioner Paul Slavit in San Francisco's traffic court, defense attorneys argue that photos taken by the unmanned cameras are inadmissible evidence and that citations against their roughly 200 clients should be dismissed.

If Slavit agrees, the city's ability to use such photos to catch red-light runners in the future may be jeopardized. "My decision is probably going to guide how we deal with red-light traffic camera cases here in traffic court in San Francisco," Slavit said.

But the commissioner said the outcome of five pending civil suits across the state, including one in San Francisco, could have an even broader impact. "The civil cases are the ones that would have the most far-reaching effect," Slavit said.

Decisions in such suits could prevent the plaintiffs from trying to relitigate their cases in another action, Slavit said, and they would more likely lead to an appeal with a published opinion, he added.

For the city, the cameras are a handy tool in nabbing red-light runners. In 2002, the city issued about 17,400 citations for running red lights, about 9,300 of them thanks to red-light camera photos, city officials said. San Francisco assesses a $341 fine for each ticket, and violators get a moving violation point on their driver's license.

S.F. solo Sherry Gendelman said she and the other defense attorneys are questioning the admissibility of the photos in their clients' cases on three primary grounds. They contend the photos are hearsay because they can't be properly authenticated, and the red-light camera system -- which includes a camera, sensors and computer -- doesn't meet the Kelly-Frye standard, California's test for determining the admissibility of scientific evidence. The San Francisco defense attorneys also argue the city's red-light camera system isn't operated by a government entity, as required under the state Vehicle Code, but by a privately contracted company.

In San Diego, the latter argument was part of a successful strategy defense lawyers used to persuade a superior court judge to throw out nearly 300 red-light camera tickets in 2001, said Arthur Tait, a partner with San Diego-based Tait, Creamer & Wong who worked on that case.   [[[People v. John Allen]]]

Deputy city attorneys, deputized by the DA to handle the San Francisco criminal case, insist in a brief the city is complying with the Vehicle Code. Even if the city weren't in full compliance, the brief says, that should only affect the weight given to the photos, not render them inadmissible.

The city attorney's office also counters in the brief that the photos can be properly authenticated and that the technology behind the red-light cameras is reliable and accepted in the scientific community. "It is unreasonable for a defendant, assuming the registered owner is the driver captured on film, to suggest that the camera is taking a photograph of someone else or someone else's car," the brief says.

Defense attorneys also criticize the city, in one of their motions, for rewarding a private vendor that helps run the camera system with a flat fee for each paid citation.

But Diana Hammons, spokeswoman for San Francisco's Department of Parking and Traffic, said most cities' red-light programs include such fees. "It encourages the companies to maintain the systems and keep them operational," she said.

Slavit has almost finished hearings on defense motions to suppress the photographic evidence and to dismiss charges in the 2-year-old criminal case, People v. Iqbal Ahmad et al . The hearing on the Kelly-Frye question began late last week and was continued until mid-August. Slavit said he hopes to make his decision on the motions soon after that.

Meanwhile, the city attorney's office is also defending red-light cameras in a civil suit brought by a woman who pleaded guilty to running a red light, then later sued the city, state and private companies involved in the cameras' operations. The case, Buys v. City and County of San Francisco , 400669, was coordinated earlier this month with four other civil cases in Los Angeles and San Diego counties.  [[Referred to hereafter as the coordinated class action suit.]]

Two are class actions with more than 275,000 potential members, plaintiffs attorneys in those cases said.

Though the mix of defendants varies, plaintiffs in all five cases are seeking monetary damages and some change in the way local red-light camera systems are run, said Timothy Blood, a San Diego-based partner with Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach and one of the appointed class counsel.

"Our goal is to try to get everyone's money refunded, and make sure the system is run fairly in the future," said Tait, who labels himself a "small player" in the class action led by Milberg Weiss.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn will have broad discretion to decide whether the cases remain coordinated through trial or return to their original jurisdictions after pretrial proceedings.

Red-light cameras such as this one accounted for 9,300 tickets in San Francisco in 2002.

 Additional info about appeal decisions in California is on this page.