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Krieger v. City of Rochester

Supreme Court, Monroe County

November 1, 2013

Lawrence Krieger, Plaintiff,
v.
City of Rochester, Defendant.

Michael S. Steinberg, Esq. Attorney for Plaintiff.

Adam M. Clark, Esq. Attorney for Defendant.

DECISION

J. SCOTT ODORISI, J.

This hybrid Civil Practice Law and Rules ("CPLR") 3001 declaratory judgment action and Article 78 special proceeding involves a Federal and State constitutional challenge to the Defendant City of Rochester's red light camera program.

Based upon a review of: Plaintiff's original pleadings; the motion to dismiss documentation from both parties; Defendant's Answer and supporting documentation; and, Plaintiff's reply papers, as well as upon oral argument heard at Special Term, this Court denies the Petition and Verified Complaint for the reasons set forth herein.

FACTS

Legislative History

The genesis of the red light camera program is found in the Vehicle and Traffic Law ("V & TL").

V & TL § 1111-b, which became effective May 28, 2009, granted the City of Rochester (the "City") the authority to establish a "demonstration program imposing monetary liability on the owner of a vehicle for failure of an operator thereof to comply with traffic-control indications, " i.e., red lights. See V & TL § 1111-b (a) (permitting a maximum of 50 cameras). [1] The statute imposes liability for a red light infraction via a penalty upon the vehicle's owner "if such vehicle was used or operated with the permission of the owner, express or implied." See V & TL § 1111-b (b). Further, there is a "presumption that the operator of such vehicle was operating such vehicle with the consent of the owner." See V & TL § 1111-b (k) (2). If the owner was not the driver, he or she can sue the actual driver for indemnification should he or she be given a red light notice. See V & TL § 1111-b (k) (1).

A sworn or affirmed certificate by a City technician based upon the inspection of the red light camera footage is prima facie evidence of a violation, and the footage is available online for viewing by the recipient of a notice and is further retained for inspection in any proceeding to adjudicate the liability for an alleged infraction. See V & TL § 1111-b (d).

Subdivision (g) sets forth various requirements for the Notice of Liability, which is the form sent to the owner notifying him or her of an alleged infraction.

The law allows the liability adjudication to proceed before an administrative traffic bureau. See V & TL § 1111-b (h). At such an administrative proceeding, it is a defense that the camera was malfunctioning at the time of the alleged infraction. See V & TL § 1111-b (n).

The penalty for a finding of liability is limited to only a monetary fine of $50. [2] See V & TL § 1111-b (e). See also City Charter § 6-6 (F) (3). A finding of liability "shall not be deemed a conviction... and shall not be made part of the operating record of the person upon whom such liability is imposed nor shall it be used for insurance purposes...." See V & TL § 1111-b (f) (emphasis added). Thus, a finding of liability does not add any points to one's drivers license and does not expose a person to any jail time.

The red light camera program per V & TL § 1111-b was implemented by the City in Section 6-6 (F) (1) of the City Charter, and those provisions together are collectively referred to as the "laws." See also Local Law No. 5-2009 and 13-2009. The City currently utilizes 31 of the 50 authorized cameras and selected the subject intersections given a variety of safety related factors. Liability adjudications are referred to the City's Parking Violations Bureau ("Bureau") See City Charter § 6-6 (F) (2).

Background Information

On or about December 27, 2012, Plaintiff Lawrence Krieger ("Plaintiff") was mailed a Notice of Liability. The Notice of Liability alleged that, on December 22, 2012, Plaintiff failed to properly stop at a red light for a right-hand turn at the intersection of Chestnut and Court Streets.

On January 23, 2013, Plaintiff appeared before a Hearing Examiner at the Bureau to contest the Notice of Liability. At the beginning of the hearing, Plaintiff was advised of his right to an attorney, but he forfeited the same. [3] Plaintiff pleaded not guilty and raised several procedural objections, including a due process objection given the strict liability on the owner. All procedural objections were rejected by the Hearing Examiner. As to the merits, and for his defense, Plaintiff contended that the digital recording was inaccurate. The video of the incident, which the Hearing Examiner watched, shows the vehicle registered to Plaintiff passing the stop line and then halting in the middle of the intersection despite there being a red light. At the conclusion of the hearing, Plaintiff was adjudicated guilty and assessed the $50 fine.

Plaintiff appealed that adjudication, and the appeal was set for June 13, 2013, at the Bureau.

Lawsuit Facts

Plaintiff commenced the present lawsuit on May 31, 2013, seeking an Order of Prohibition, as well as a declaratory judgment decreeing that V & TL § 1111-b and City Charter § 6-6 (F) were unconstitutional.

Based upon the consent of the parties, Plaintiff's appeal was stayed pending the outcome of this case. See CPLR 7805.

In its first filing before this Court, Defendant moved to dismiss the case, but that motion was denied by way of a letter decision dated July 31, 2013. [4]

After the above dismissal, Defendant submitted a Verified Answer accompanied by several supporting affidavits, including one from the current Mayor Thomas Richards, and a lengthy certified transcript of record - all explaining the valid legislative objectives behind the red light camera law, the purported positive effects of the same, and the procedural safeguards the law affords.

Petitioner filed reply papers disputing the proffered rational basis for the law and also the effectiveness of the same.

Brief Summary of Contentions

Plaintiff assails the red light camera program on the ground that it violates his substantive and procedural due process rights. Plaintiff contends that the program is quasi-criminal in nature thereby requiring enhanced due process protections which are not being fulfilled under the current laws. Plaintiff asserts a substantive due process violation because the program improperly imposes vicarious liability through its statutorily imposed presumption which runs afoul of the proper placement of the burdens of proof. As to procedural due process grounds, Plaintiff submits that the administrative process is essentially a sham and any defenses are meaningless.

In opposition, Defendant highlights the rational relationship the red light program has to the legitimate government objective of ensuring public safety, as well as preserving precious law enforcement resources. Defendant also refutes the contention that the laws are quasi-criminal, and instead advocates that they are purely civil in nature given the limited $50 fine. Defendant further insists that the laws are compliant with administratively required due process protections.

Petitioner replies that Defendant's reliance on a public safety objective is irrelevant as V & TL ยง 1111 (d) already prohibits disregarding a red light, and Defendant failed to prove that the prior system of enforcement via the use of police officers was ineffective. Additionally, Plaintiff disputes that red light infractions are of such a serious problem to allow the foregoing ...


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