Motorist gets green light to sue red light camera company

Red Traffic Light

A Louisiana driver who received a $75 red light camera ticket in the Dallas-area city of Southlake has gotten the go-ahead this week from the state Court of Appeals to sue the firm that makes the cameras.

The $130 million class-action lawsuit charges both the firm, Australian-based Redflex, as well as Southlake with fraud. The ticket that the driver received in the mail claimed that failure to pay the $75 ticket would be reported to a collection agency, which is prohibited under Texas law.

From TheNewspaper.com:

Redflex lawyers cited a law designed to prevent powerful companies from using the threat of a lawsuit to chill public debate in asking a judge to throw out the case. The anti-SLAPP law seeks to prevent “strategic lawsuits against public participation” by giving citizens a chance to have such lawsuits dismissed at an early stage, avoiding extremely expensive legal bills.

“But for the sale of Redflex’s services to the city of Southlake, services that included sending notices of violation to the owners of vehicles Redflex’s cameras captured running a red light, Redflex would not have sent the notice of violation…,” Justice Lee Gabriel wrote for the Texas appellate panel. “And, of course, in exchange for the services it provided to the city, Redflex was entitled to receive compensation, namely, a percentage of the fines people paid after receiving a notice of violation from Redflex.”

Because the anti-SLAPP law was meant to protect private citizens, the statute excludes any attempts to protect commercial speech. The court gave no credit to any of the arguments presented by Redflex, but the judges expressed no opinion on the underlying merits of the lawsuit.

Red light cameras have long been controversial in Texas and in many other states, too.

Opponents argue they violate constitutional protections of due process since alleged violators cannot face their accuser, which is a camera, in court.

In 2010, Houston voters rejected the city’s red light camera program, with 53.2 percent of voters saying they wanted to pull the plug on the cameras, which had issued 800,000 tickets and collected $44 million in fines.

“This is a victory for the people,” Paul Kubosh told the Houston Chronicle after the victory. Kubosh is an attorney who defends red light runners and collected more than 20,000 signatures to get the referendum on the ballot. “The voters said that they do not like cameras.”

And more recently, a state senator vowed to eliminate red light cameras at intersections across Texas.

Following an investigation by Austin TV station KXAN that found the vast majority of Texas cities aren’t complying with the state’s red light camera law — which requires them to conduct traffic engineering studies prior to implementation — Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) promised to file legislation to prevent Texas cities from using those cameras to assess civil fines.

See The Texas Monitor’s coverage on red light cameras here.

Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.

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Trent is an award-winning editor and reporter, who has previously worked The Denver Post, The (Nashville) Tennessean, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Most recently, he was the investigative producer for Houston’s KTRK-TV ABC-13. He was also the editor and founder of Texas Watchdog, a ground-breaking news group that paved the way for this project. Trent is a teacher of journalism skills, and has shown hundreds of reporters and citizen-journalists how to use public records, databases and journalism tools to keep a watchful eye on their own local government.