Move to federal court sought for Minneapolis lawsuit on ‘photo cop’ cost reimbursement

The Arizona company that installed and operated Minneapolis’ controversial “photo cop” cameras has petitioned the U.S. District Court in Minnesota to take over a lawsuit filed against it by the City of Minneapolis last month in state court in Hennepin County.

In 2007, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled illegal the program, which used cameras to take pictures of the license plates of cars that ran lights.

The so-called Stop on Red campaign was struck down because there was no way to prove that the vehicles’ owners, who received citations in the mail, were driving the cars at the time of the offense. 

The current suit seeks reimbursement (PDF) from the company that operated the camera system, Redflex Traffic Systems, for the cost of defending itself against a subsequent class-action suit filed by more than 500 car owners who demanded the return of their $142 fines. Last year, a federal judge ordered the city to return some $2.6 million in fines.

The March 2005 contract between the city and Redflex called for the company to “reimburse the city for legal liability based on civil, criminal and administrative actions challenging the legality or constitutionality of the Redflex Program,” according to the complaint. 

The city also is seeking unspecified damages from what it says is Redflex’s failure to pay its subcontractors and to post a bond required by state law to ensure that subcontractors on public works projects are paid. In 2006, the city was ordered to pay Collins Electrical Systems $162,000 for unpaid work and $182,000 in attorneys’ fees.

David Shulman, the attorney who represents Redflex, declined comment, explaining that the action is “basically a business dispute.” Assistant City Attorney Peter Ginder also declined comment, asserting that “in this matter, the complaint does speak for itself.”

Ironically, if it weren’t for its constitutional problems, Stop on Red might have been a tremendous success. Claiming that during its brief time in operation, the system reduced accidents at the city’s most notorious intersections by 30 percent, Minneapolis officials vowed to find a way to reinstitute the program legally. To date, no solution has been found.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Alex Danzberger on 08/05/2010 - 04:01 pm.

    Having just returned from England where speed cameras are EVERYWHERE I am shocked the courts disallowed usage here on the lame angle of not being able to prove a vehicle owner wasn’t in possession of the car at the time incident. Let them prove the vehicle was stolen with a stolen vehicle report, if that was the case. The fact is that while the system was in use, it was proven that less folks run red lights!!! The cameras work!!!

    This is a perfect case where the perp has been misconstrued as the victim and the true victims (those of us at risk of idiots running red lights or speeding) lose a layer of protection and the state a revenue opportunity. I’d like to know who will protect my civil liberties against a left wing judiciary? Can citizens appeal this ruling?

  2. Submitted by donald maxwell on 08/05/2010 - 04:56 pm.

    This life-saving technology is long overdue. The most advanced version not only tickets the red-light runner but also controls the light so that cross traffic is not given a green to proceed into the path of an anticipated red-light violation. The light controls therefore prevent crashes immediately, besides saving lives by deterrence.

    There is no apparent reason why I or any owner of a vehicle cannot be held responsible for the use of the vehicle I own. Nobody has to allow use of a vehicle by someone he can’t collect a traffic fine from. Someone needs to explain why and when an owner should not be held liable, and then state legislation is needed to codify the handling of this technology and get the matter out of the courts. For example, auto insurance could cover the cost of fines, as well as other damage, caused by unauthorized use of a vehicle when the owner has not had an opportunity to report the vehicle stolen and cannot recover from the driver.

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 08/06/2010 - 11:43 am.

    The problem with the Minneapolis ordinance was that it imposed criminal responsibility without requiring proog that the owner of the car committed the crime.

    If the city chooses to do so, it can impose civil liability on the owner, based merely on ownership of the car. I’m pretty confident that the involve driver will hear from the owner shortly after the owner receives the equivalent of a parking ticket in the mail, but for significantly more money.

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