Cook County Record

Monday, February 24, 2020

Chicago tries to put brakes on red light camera suit, says plaintiffs waited too long; plaintiffs say there's no time limit

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By Dan Churney | Aug 3, 2019

Chicago city hall

Chicago city attorneys are urging dismissal of a putative class action suit against the city, which demands the city compensate drivers who didn’t receive second notices of camera-generated traffic citations between 2003 and 2010, contending the suit was lodged too late and second notices were not required anyway. 

In January, plaintiffs Fred Hampton and Glenn Williams filed for a class action in Cook County Circuit Court for themselves and other motorists who were mailed red light camera and speed camera automated tickets from 2003 to 2010, but did not receive second notices of the alleged violations. The notices were to give those drivers, who didn't respond to first notices, a chance to contest the citations before they were fined. Plaintiffs argued the failure to send second notices invalidates the citations. The class action could involve hundreds of thousands of drivers.

Last year, the city settled a similar action, filed in 2015, for citations issued between 2010 and 2015. The suit sought to include all citations issued since implementation of the camera system in 2003, but the settlement only went back to 2010. Under the terms of the $38 million settlement, each class member pocketed an average of $58, with $11 million going to the Chicago firm of Myron M. Cherry & Associates, which represented plaintiffs.

The firm of Cafferty Clobes Meriwether & Sprengel is handling the new suit. The firm has offices in Chicago, Philadelphia and Ann Arbor, Mich.

The new suit, as did the old one, alleges the city violated its own ordinance by not sending a second notice of violation to people who were mailed tickets.

City Hall is arguing it was optional for the city to send second notices, not mandatory, and noted Illinois Vehicle Code does not require second notices.

Plaintiffs have countered the ordinance uses the word "shall" regarding followup notices.

"The Court should not rescue the City from this quagmire of its own making. If the City Council did not intend to make the second notice requirement mandatory, it should have used different language or amended the ordinance to clarify its intent," plaintiffs said.

The city further maintained that although there is no unjust enrichment count in the suit, plaintiffs are essentially accusing the city of unjust enrichment, which carries a five-year statute of limitations and would kill the suit.

Plaintiffs brushed aside the city's contention unjust enrichment is in play, calling the city's arguments"specious efforts to impose a limitations period where none exists."

Plaintiffs said the city on multiple occasions in circuit court and on appeal during the first class action, argued for the five-year limit, but judges rejected the arguments. In addition, plaintiffs claimed the citations in question are void, and the U.S. Supreme Court said in 2016: "When we say that a judgment is void, that judgment may be challenged at any time."

The city also asserted the suit is no good, because plaintiffs lodged their action before exhausting administrative remedies. However, plaintiffs replied the citations don't turn on whether drivers were guilty, but on the validity of citations and case law interpretation, which cannot be addressed at the administrative level.

The case is assigned to Associate Judge David Atkins.

City Hall is represented by corporate counsel and the Chicago firm of Thompson Coburn LLP.

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Organizations in this Story

Cafferty Clobes Meriwether & Sprengel LLPCircuit Court of Cook CountyCity of ChicagoThompson Coburn LLP

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