Class action suit filed over traffic cameras

Equal protection violation, lack of notice cited

By B.A. Morelli, The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS — A class-action lawsuit filed on Tuesday is challenging automated traffic cameras that Cedar Rapids officials say save lives and reduce crashes.

The cameras came under fire after the Iowa Department of Transportation said two Interstate 380 speed cameras — two of the most productive in the traffic enforcement program — don’t comply with state rules requiring at least 1,000 feet between a camera and speed limit change.

The lawsuit claims the speed cameras fail to provide adequate notice to motorists, and that the cameras target certain motorists while thousands more are exempt from the rules.

“I hope they have the traffic cameras banned entirely because I think they are unconstitutional,” said plaintiff Gary Hughes of Marion.

The lawsuit was filed in Linn County District Court against the City of Cedar Rapids and Gatso USA, a Delaware-based company that provides equipment and services for the camera program.

The other plaintiff, Arash Yarpezeshkan of Cedar Rapids, did not have a listed phone number.

Attorney James C. Larew, who is representing the plaintiffs, declined to comment. Officials from Cedar Rapids and Gatso USA did not return phone and email messages seeking comment.

The speed cameras photograph motorists who violate the speed limit; from there, a civil penalty of at least $75 is issued. These violations are different from traditional speeding tickets, which go on a motorist’s driving record.

The lawsuit claims thousands of vehicles don’t face enforcement by the cameras, creating unequal classes of citizens, some of whom are subject to the ordinance and others who are not.

“That violates fundamental notions of fairness and equality under the law,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit:

* At least 3,200 government vehicles are not listed in the database used by Cedar Rapids and Gatso to enforce the camera program.

* The license plate database was purchased from the Iowa DOT, “thereby allowing, de facto, many thousands of vehicles owned and licensed by out-of-state residents to escape the imposition of civil penalties.”

* The technology allows only the photographing of rear-facing license plates, thus exempting more than 100,000 Iowa-based vehicles that aren’t required to use rear-facing plates.

The second argument claims the traffic enforcement program is “independently flawed” because Cedar Rapids has failed to provide drivers with minimally-required notice of speed limit changes, meaning drivers are denied “a reasonable and safe opportunity to reduce speeds without incurring civil penalties.”

The Iowa DOT notified Cedar Rapids that cameras on I-380 didn’t appear to comply with the 1,000 foot rule that took effect on Feb. 12.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett and Police Chief Wayne Jerman acknowledged the discrepancy — 895 feet at J Avenue southbound and 860 feet at Diagonal Drive northbound — but said the cameras will stay up and operating and ticket recipients will not be getting a refund.

Corbett said he believed the cameras were “grandfathered” in.

The lawsuit requests a temporary ban on enforcing the speed cameras until the conclusion of the proceeding; a permanent restriction on the automatic traffic enforcement program; and a refund for anyone fined under the program in the last two years.

Cedar Rapids automated traffic cameras issued nearly 100,000 tickets worth $5.3 million in 2013, according to a report to the DOT. The city received $3.1 million of the revenue, while Gatso collected $2.1 million, according to Cedar Rapids.

Since February, when the new rule took effect, the two cameras not in compliance with the DOT rules issued approximately 40,000 tickets.

Mike Lahammer, a Cedar Rapids attorney, said a class action was the logical approach because of the vast amount of people affected combined with relatively small penalty amount.

“I’m not sure it would pay to do it on an individual basis,” he said. “Individually, how much is each person out? As a class, everybody has got a ticket and you are talking into the millions.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Camera Lawsuit Filed

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