Federal judge declares Chicago red light camera program constitutional, tosses class action vs city, vendors

By Jonathan Bilyk | Dec 10, 2015

A federal judge has slapped a permanent stop sign on a class action lawsuit against the city of Chicago and the vendors it uses to administer its red light camera program, as the judge said the city should be allowed under state law and the Illinois and U.S. constitutions to delegate the task of reviewing potential red light citations to administrators and technicians hired by the vendors.

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve dismissed with prejudice the lawsuit brought by plaintiff Matthew Falkner, who had argued the city and its vendors should pay back the amounts improperly collected from people forced to pay the fines under the allegedly illegal traffic citation program.

“The relevant statutes detail a thorough framework governing the red light violation, the automated red light traffic system, and, specifically, the two-layer-technician-review process, leaving no room for the traffic compliance administrator or technicians to ‘make the law,’” St. Eve wrote. “The Act merely enables the technicians to review recorded images and determine whether a driver was crossing a particular landmark at the time the street light displayed a red signal, thereby violating the General Assembly’s red light statutes.

“In other words, the Act simply confers the ‘authority or discretion as to [the Act’s] execution’ to the administrator and technicians, which is ‘unobjectionable.’”

The dismissal marked Falkner’s likely final try at overturning the red light camera program and securing refunds for himself and others who ran afoul of the city’s red light camera enforcement program.

In spring 2014, Falkner had first filed a class action, arguing the city’s selected red light camera program vendor, Redflex, should be forced to pay back a large portion of the more than $100 million it had collected as its administrative share of the $520 million the city had collected in red light camera traffic fines since 2003. In that initial complaint, Falkner had argued the court should invalidate and order refunded the portion of the fines dedicated to Redflex because the vendor had stood accused of bribing Chicago city officials to secure and hold its contract to administer the red light camera program.

The bribery scandal launched lawsuits and administrative actions against Redflex and its executives. Chicago hired Xerox in 2013 to replace Redflex as the administrator of the red light camera program. IBM has served since 2003 as the city’s selected vendor to review the red light camera tickets issued by the city and its primary vendors. IBM during that time has reviewed about 500,000 potential red light violations annually, court documents said.

However, in April, St. Eve dismissed that action, saying Falkner had not demonstrated the bribery actually harmed him in any way, as, whether Redflex had paid off city officials or not, he still would have been compelled to pay $100 for running a red light at an intersection with a red light camera in 2013.

The judge allowed Falkner to file an amended complaint, which he did in May, changing his legal tact to focus his arguments on the city’s alleged unconstitutional delegation of power to its contracted red light camera vendors to issue and review the $100 tickets issued to those caught running red lights by the cameras mounted at various intersections throughout the city.

St. Eve, however, said she believes the city acted within its constitutional bounds, as she said the city not only had the authority to create a red light camera enforcement program, to also delegate to others – even private contractors - the power to execute the program, as well.

Since state law requires motorists to stop at red lights, and state law gave the city the authority to establish the camera program to enforce the red light laws, the city, by hiring contractors to administer the program and review the tickets, did not unconstitutionally delegate its “sovereign power… to the public traffic compliance administrator or private review-technicians.”

“Rather, it is constitutionally delegating ‘the authority to execute the law,’” St. Eve said.

The judge also brushed aside Falkner’s assertions the technicians, working for private companies, were serving “private interests,” rather than those of the city, noting contracts indicate the vendors’ pay is not linked to the number of tickets issued.

In her dismissal of Falkner’s action in April, St. Eve had warned Falkner he would only be allowed one more opportunity to find a line of legal reasoning to support his legal contentions against the red light program. After dismissing his most recent complaint, St. Eve said Falkner’s efforts had run out of fuel, as she dismissed his amended complaint with prejudice, meaning he cannot attempt to file a similar action against the city and its red light camera vendors again.

Falkner was represented in the action by attorneys Thomas C. Cronin, of Cronin & Co., of Chicago; Thomas J. Connick, of Connick Law, of Cleveland; and Edward C. Cochran, of Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Redflex was defended by attorneys with the firm of Honigman Miller Schwartz & Cohn, of Chicago; IBM was represented by the firm of Kirkland & Ellis, of Chicago; and Xerox by the firm of Baker Hostetler, with offices in Chicago and Cleveland. The city of Chicago was represented by attorneys from its Department of Law.

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Organizations in this Story

Baker and Hostetler City of Chicago Cronin and Co. LTD Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP Kirkland & Ellis LLP

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