Judge dismisses class-action lawsuit against Cedar Rapids traffic cameras

A federal judge dismissed a class-action lawsuit contending the Cedar Rapids' automated traffic camera program violates the law

Radar-enabled speed cameras are attached to a sign post as traffic moves along northbound Interstate 380 near the Diagonal Dr. SW exit on Friday, May 21, 2010, in Cedar Rapids. The cameras will record speeders and issue a ticket for the infraction. (Jim Slosiarek/SourceMedia Group News)
Radar-enabled speed cameras are attached to a sign post as traffic moves along northbound Interstate 380 near the Diagonal Dr. SW exit on Friday, May 21, 2010, in Cedar Rapids. The cameras will record speeders and issue a ticket for the infraction. (Jim Slosiarek/SourceMedia Group News)

A federal judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit contending the Cedar Rapids’ automated traffic camera program violates the law.

In the 45-page ruling, Chief Judge Linda R. Reade wrote that the cameras, which use images of license plates to detect and fine speeders, do not violate the fundamental rights of motorists nor is the program unconstitutional.

“Plaintiffs fail to state a claim for a violation of substantive due process because they have not shown either that their fundamental right to travel has been infringed or that Defendants’ conduct shocks the conscience,” Reade wrote.

Iowa City lawyer James Larew filed the class action against the city of Cedar Rapids and the traffic camera vendor, Beverly, Mass.-based Gatso USA, on behalf of several motorists who live both in- and out-of state.

Some of the plaintiffs didn’t have standing in the case because they hadn’t been ticketed, the case was moot for one plaintiff, and all of the plaintiffs made claims for which relief could not be granted, she wrote.

The suit was filed in September after the Iowa Department of Transportation reported some of Cedar Rapids’ cameras violated newly created state rules. But Reade ruled that, regardless, the program does not necessarily impinge on the right to due process.

Reade also wrote Cedar Rapids had a rational reason for using the camera program: “The city could rationally conclude that the (automated traffic enforcement) system would reduce the number of people violating traffic laws while simultaneously raising money,” she wrote.

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The traffic cameras have been used in Cedar Rapids since 2010, and have gained popularity nationally as an efficient way to improve roadway safety by deterring speeders. But they’ve also drawn criticism as being more about making money than promoting safety.

In Cedar Rapids, the cameras issued more than 90,000 tickets in 2014 and generated more than $5 million split between the city and Gatso.

Stakeholders in the case were still processing the lengthy ruling Thursday.

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said in an email the city attorney was still reviewing it. He said he was pleased by the outcome.

“We continue to strongly support the automated traffic enforcement program,” Jerman said. “It has been an effective tool for enhancing public safety.”

Paul Burns, an attorney for vendor Gatso, also was happy.

“Gatso is very pleased the court agrees there’s no merit for the plaintiff’s claims,” he said.

Larew has filed a lawsuit in Des Moines also on similar grounds. Burns, who represents Gatso in that case as well, said he plans to bring this ruling to the court’s attention there.

Larew, who was out of the office Thursday, did not return phone or email messages.

Lead plaintiff Gary Hughes of Marion said he was disappointed he was never able to have his day in court.

“I know (Larew) was frustrated by the lack of movement in federal court,” Hughes said. “My guess is he might refile in state court.”

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