A state appeals court panel has ruled that an eastern Missouri community's ordinance governing red-light cameras contradicts state law and is not enforceable.
In a ruling handed down Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District said contrary to Ellisville's red-light camera ordinance, running a red light is a moving violation for which state law requires points to be assessed against the driver.
The court also ruled that ticketing a vehicle's owner for such a moving violation, even when there is no proof the owner was driving, also is in conflict with Missouri statutes.
"Any ordinance in the state of Missouri that puts strict liability on vehicle owners regardless of who was driving is invalid because of the Ellisville case," said Ryan Keane, a St. Louis attorney representing plaintiffs in a challenge to the town's ordinance.
An attorney for American Traffic Solutions, which installed and operates the cameras in Ellisville and more than two dozen other Missouri communities, disagrees with the court's ruling and Keane's interpretation of its impact.
"It is only a procedural issue and by no means is going to outlaw red-light camera programs, by any stretch," said Jane Dueker, an attorney for ATS. "We're going to move this for transfer to the Supreme Court."
Four couples challenged Ellisville's ordinance after receiving tickets in the mail because their vehicles were recorded running a red light. Among their arguments was that the ordinance wasn't consistent with state law.
In its ruling Tuesday, the appeals court agreed, saying, "absent a change in either Missouri state law, or a revision of municipal ordinances to eliminate any conflict between their ordinances and state law, municipal red light camera regulation will continue to run afoul of Section 304.120.3, and will hence be void and unenforceable."
Section 304.120.3 says ordinances that are contrary or in conflict with state law are invalid.
Like in many other communities, Ellisville's ordinance calls for citations to be issued to the owners of vehicles caught running red lights where the cameras are operating. It defines a violation as the presence of a vehicle in an intersection — without addressing how that vehicle got there — and thus justifies the non-moving violation designation.
The appeals court said that defies logic.
"We fully understand Ellisville's attempt to design a system of red light camera regulation to withstand the judicial scrutiny that has accompanied the enactment of such legislation throughout this country," the judges wrote. "However, despite its efforts, we remain unconvinced that the semantics employed by Ellisville and other Missouri municipalities with the term 'presence' successfully circumvents the legislative prohibition of Section 304.120.3."
Because running a red light is a moving violation under state law, the judges said, points must be assigned to the violator's license regardless of what Ellisville's ordinance said.
Page 2 of 2 - Dueker said it's not the appeals court's job to decide whether points should or shouldn't be assessed to red-light violators.
"The director of revenue is the only one who can make that decision," Dueker said. "Points are separate administrative proceedings. The court does not have the ability to determine the points issue. It's an advisory opinion that frankly isn't binding and certainly shouldn't have been issued."
She noted — as did the court in its ruling — that a panel of judges from the same court in 2011 determined state law allows municipalities to issue citations to vehicle owners even if someone else was driving.
In that case, Mary Nottebrok challenged Creve Couer's ordinance after receiving $100 citation because her vehicle ran a red light. The court said municipalities have the right to impose liability on the vehicle owner, and that it wasn't required to assign points against a violator's license because the city classified infractions as non-moving violations.
In its ruling Tuesday, the court said its conclusion in the Nottebrok case was "overruled and no longer good law."