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Monday, April 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Leased Car Drivers Get|Green Light for Lawsuit

(CN) - Although Cleveland's practice of fining the drivers of leased vehicles through its traffic camera program doesn't violate the federal takings clause, the 6th Circuit said it might run afoul of Ohio's Constitution.

The federal appeals court in Cincinnati reinstated the state-law claims of Cuyahoga County residents Daniel McCarthy and Colleen Carroll, who were each fined $100 after they were caught on the city's red light and speed cameras.

They argued that the city's traffic camera ordinance amounted to an unconstitutional governmental taking, because they were driving leased vehicles.

"Because McCarthy and Carroll leased their vehicles, they were not listed as registered owners on the records of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles," Judge Samuel Mays Jr. wrote for the three-judge panel. "Under the plain text of Cleveland's ordinance, plaintiffs were not liable for the tickets."

The Ohio courts effectively adopted this view when a law firm that leased its company vehicles successfully challenged the citations it received. The city has since amended its ordinance to include leased vehicles.

A federal judge dismissed McCarthy and Carroll's class action on behalf of drivers of leased vehicles, and the 6th Circuit revived their state-law claims, though it upheld the dismissal of their federal takings claim.

Judge Mays said the takings claim failed because the ordinance "does not seize or otherwise impair an identifiable fund of money."

But the panel reinstated the state-law claims, which were similarly rooted in the claim that Cleveland took "private property without compensation."

The federal appeals court noted that, according to the Ohio Supreme Court, state law "affords greater protection than the federal takings clause." Mays said the lower court improperly lumped together the plaintiffs' state and federal claims.

"The district court did not analyze Count I of plaintiffs' amended complaint, which asserted that Cleveland's enforcement of the traffic camera ordinance unjustly enriched the city," the judge wrote.

"We must, therefore, reverse the judgment of the district court on these state law claims and remand this case for further proceedings."

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