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Top court gives speed-camera suit a red light

Despite being unpopular to the point of people taking bats and rocks to them, speed cameras in one Maryland county are not going anywhere after the Court of Appeals last week upheld the dismissal of a class action lawsuit that challenged their legality.

The state’s high court affirmed lower court rulings that barred the eight drivers from pursuing a class action against Montgomery County, the mayor and council of Rockville, the City of Gaithersburg and Chevy Chase Village. Instead, challenges to the cameras would have to be done individually at the Maryland District Court level.

“We’re pleased with the result and happy the case is finally settled after four years of litigation,” said Kevin Karpinski, with Karpinski, Colaresi & Karp PA in Baltimore, which represented Gaithersburg and Chevy Chase. “The court affirmed that the plaintiff’s case doesn’t have merit and my clients don’t need to make any changes in how they operate the speed monitoring systems.”

Timothy P. Leahy, an attorney with Byrd & Byrd LLC in Bowie, who represented the drivers, was not available for comment on Friday.

Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote the unanimous decision for the court. Harrell noted early on that the issue of speed cameras was a contentious one that evoked strong emotions from drivers.

“It seems that speed cameras are a particularly unpopular law enforcement tool, having provoked some Marylanders to vandalism,” Harrell wrote. “Angry drivers are reported to have set fire to, hurled rocks at and slingshot marbles at the cameras. In perhaps the most extreme example of retribution, we are informed that a man approached a car-mounted speed camera along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, brandishing a shotgun and a hammer. He smashed two of the car’s windows with the hammer before fleeing the scene (the occupant of the car was unhurt).”

Montgomery County was the first county in Maryland to install speed cameras. Under the arrangement, a third-party vendor, in this case ACS State and Local Solutions Inc., provides the speed monitoring equipment. Drivers who exceed the speed limit by more than 10 mph are photographed, and citations for $40 are mailed out.

Under the contracts with the county and municipalities, ACS was paid a per citation fee and/or guaranteed a minimum monthly payment. The original lawsuit argued that the per citation fee violated the Transportation statute and claimed that ACS, not the police departments, operated the equipment.

Harrell wrote that the statute did not provide “an express or implied private cause of action.” He added that the statute allows for challenges individually at the District Court level.

Speed cameras are still the subject of other lawsuits, including one filed by Leahy earlier this month in Prince George’s County.

That lawsuit claims that, in violation of state law, civilian employees of the Riverdale Park police department signed off on citations using the identification number of a town police officer who was unaware they were doing so. State law requires that duly appointed law enforcement officers must provide a signed statement that they have inspected the information. The 11-count lawsuit claims violations including civil conspiracy, unjust enrichment and fraud.

Harrell

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Shepherd v. Burson, CA No. 124, Sept. Term 2011. Reported. Opinion by Harrell, J. Argued June 6, 2012. Filed Aug. 21, 2012.

Issue:

(1) Did CSA err in ruling that any challenge by recipients of speed camera citations must be raised during the District Court trial?

Holding:

No; affirmed. The statute is a general welfare one not to benefit a particular class and there is a provision to challenge tickets in District Court.

Counsel:

Kevin Karpinski and Sandra D. Lee, of Karpinski, Colaresi & Karp PA in Baltimore; Charles L. Frederick, associate county attorney, Marc P. Hansen, county attorney, for respondents. Stephen H. Ring and Toby N. Byrd, Timothy P. Leahy and Joshua Winger, of Byrd & Byrd LLC of Bowie, and William F. Askinazi, for petitioners.

RecordFax # 12-0821-22 (28 pages).