The New Miami speed camera case will continue, this time to Columbus and the Ohio Supreme Court.
The village’s outside counsel James Englert confirmed it will take the case to the high court now that the 12th District Court of Appeals sided with the speeders in the $3 million-plus case. The village will ask Ohio’s high court to rule that it is immune from being sued by a group seeking to collect fines paid during the village’s speed camera program, which was later ruled unconstitutional.
“The legislature has given political subdivisions immunity from certain claims and provided protections including payment of judgments over time so that the city or village does not go bankrupt in order to satisfy a judgment,” Englert said. “The village simply wants Ohio’s highest court to rule whether or not it has these protections where the claim is for violation of due process. It’s an important public policy issue.”
Generally speaking, governments are immune from lawsuits except in certain situations, like this one, the appeals court found.
“The action seeking restitution by plaintiffs ‘is not a civil suit for money damages but rather an action to correct the unjust enrichment of’ New Miami,” 12th district Judge Michael Powell wrote for the unanimous court on Jan. 22. “As the Ohio Supreme Court plainly held, ‘A suit that seeks the return of specific funds wrongfully collected or held by the state is brought in equity’ and ‘is consequently not barred by sovereign immunity.’”
Englert thinks that opinion is incorrect, and the village wants the high court to look at the case through the lenses of the legislators who gave governments immunity so they wouldn’t go bankrupt.
The speed camera case started in 2013 when a group of speeders challenged the village’s old speed camera program. Former Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Sage declared the village’s program unconstitutional and discontinued the use of the standalone speed catchers.
The case has gone to the 12th District three times — on class certification and the immunity issue — and was declined review by the Ohio Supreme Court in the class portion of the case.
Josh Engel, one of the speeders’ attorneys, said the village needs to stop using delaying tactics.
Englert said what the village really wants is for one of the higher courts to decide the key issue which is whether the old program — there is a new program in use now where officers armed with hand-held cameras target speeders — violated drivers’ rights to due process. That issue cannot be considered at the appellate level until Butler County Common Pleas Judge Michael Oster issues a final judgment in the case. While the case was sitting in the 12th District he had no right to make that ruling.
Once the village files the case in the Supreme Court — they have 45 days from the 12th District decision — Oster’s jurisdiction will again be suspended. He has scheduled a hearing for next week on the issue of how members of the class will be notified about requested attorneys fees and who will pay for it.