An Ohio Appeals Court has upheld a decision by a Butler County judge that the village of New Miami cannot claim immunity to avoid repaying the $3 million it collected from drivers who were caught by an unconstitutional speed camera scheme.
Previously, the Common Pleas Court had found that the ordinance implementing the speed camera scheme failed to provide adequate due process to motorists.
The Village had attempted to avoid repaying the money it had collected by claiming “sovereign immunity,” a legal doctrine that allows municipalities to avoid tort liability. The court had previously ruled that the doctrine was inapplicable because the suit to recover the money was an action to correct the unjust enrichment of the village.
The Court of Appeals rejected the Village’s argument that because courts have upheld the authority of municipalities to enact speed camera ordinances, they don’t have to provide adequate due process. The court said:
New Miami claims that this is not a case where Plaintiffs are seeking reimbursement for services rendered or money “wrongfully collected.” New Miami asserts that the penalties paid by Plaintiffs were not “wrongfully collected” because New Miami has the authority “to operate traffic programs and collect penalties for violation of traffic laws.” Apparently, it is New Miami’s contention that because it has legal authority to collect penalties for violation of its traffic laws, Plaintiffs’ claim is necessarily for money damages based upon a denial of due process in the collection of those penalties. While it is true that New Miami has the authority to enforce its traffic laws, it must do so in a constitutional manner.
Joshua Engel, one of the attorneys representing motorists, told the Journal News that this was an important decision to prevent abusive government actions:
“The constitution is intended to protect people from the government, yet New Miami would render the constitution meaningless by saying that municipalities can ignore the constitution and get the benefits of passing unconstitutional laws.”