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City of Sioux City v. Jacobsma

Supreme Court of Iowa

February 20, 2015


Page 336

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Jeffrey A. Neary, Judge. The defendant seeks discretionary review of a district court ruling affirming a magistrate's order that found the defendant responsible for a citation issued to him for a speeding violation under an automated traffic enforcement ordinance.

Michael J. Jacobsma of Jacobsma & Clabaugh PLC, Sioux Center, Pro se.

Justin R. Vondrak, Nicole Jensen-Harris, and Amber L. Hegarty, Assistant City Attorneys, for appellee.


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APPEL, Justice.

In this case, the defendant challenges a citation issued to him for an alleged speeding violation under an automated traffic enforcement ordinance enacted by the City of Sioux City. The defendant sought dismissal of the citation on constitutional grounds, claiming enforcement of the ordinance violated the Due Process Clauses of the Iowa and Federal Constitutions, the inalienable rights clause of the Iowa Constitution, and the Iowa municipal home rule amendment that prohibits cities from enacting ordinances that conflict with state law. A magistrate refused to dismiss the charge and found the defendant responsible for the violation. The district court affirmed. The defendant filed an application for discretionary review, which we granted. We now affirm the decision of the district court.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

A. Sioux City's Automated Traffic Enforcement Ordinance.

In February of 2011, Sioux City enacted an automated traffic enforcement (ATE) ordinance. Sioux City, Iowa, Mun. Code § 10.12.080 (2011).[1] Section 1 of the ATE ordinance generally authorizes the Sioux City chief of police to deploy an automated traffic speed enforcement system to provide automated images of vehicles that fail to obey the speed limits on roadways within the city. Id. § 10.12.080(1). While the ATE ordinance provides that the automated system shall be operated by a private contractor, the police department receives the digital images and determines which " vehicle owners are in violation of the city's speed enforcement ordinance and are to receive a notice of violation for the offense." Id. Section 2(b) of the ATE ordinance defines " vehicle owner" as " the person or entity identified by the Iowa Department of Transportation, or registered with any other state vehicle registration office, as the registered owner of a vehicle." Id. § 10.12.080(2)(b).

A violation of the ATE ordinance is defined in section 3. Under section 3(a), " [a] violation occurs when a vehicle traveling on a public roadway exceeds the applicable speed limit." Id. § 10.12.080(3)(a).

The ATE ordinance next considers who is liable for a violation. Under section 3(b), the " vehicle owner or nominated party shall be liable for a civil penalty" imposed by the ordinance. Id. § 10.12.080(3)(b). The ATE ordinance does not define or further elaborate on the term " nominated party," nor does it expressly provide a specific procedure for a vehicle owner to identify a nominated party. See id. § 10.12.080. Section 3(c) of the ATE ordinance further provides that a violation of the ordinance " may be rebutted by showing that a stolen vehicle report was made on the vehicle encompassing the period in question." Id. § 10.12.080(3)(c). The ATE ordinance does not expressly provide any other way to rebut a violation of the ordinance. See id. § 10.12.080.

Section 4 of the ATE ordinance establishes a civil penalty for violations and

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provides a right of appeal. Id. § 10.12.080(4). Under section 4(a), the civil penalty assessed is equivalent to the scheduled fine, including all surcharges and costs, established by Iowa Code section 321.285 for excessive speed over the posted speed limit. Id. § 10.12.080(4)(a). Sections 4(b) and (c) of the ATE ordinance provide an avenue of appeal. Under section 4(b), a recipient of an ATE citation " may dispute the citation by requesting a review by the chief of police or his designee." Id. § 10.12.080(4)(b). After such a review has been requested, " [t]he chief of police or his designee shall act as [a] hearing officer." Id. § 10.12.080(4)(c). The hearing officer is then required to render a written decision within three business days of the hearing " as to whether the owner of the vehicle is guilty of an . . . infraction." Id. An appeal from the hearing officer's decision may be perfected by filing a written notice with the hearing officer. Id.

Under section 4(d) of the ATE ordinance, if an appeal of the hearing officer's decision is sought, a municipal infraction citation is issued by the police department. Id. § 10.12.080(4)(d). After the filing of an appeal request, a required court appearance and the scheduling of a trial before a judge or magistrate results. Id.

B. Alleged Violation of the ATE Ordinance.

On August 6, 2012, a vehicle registered to Michael Jacobsma was detected by ATE equipment maintained by Sioux City traveling northbound on I-29 near Sioux City at a speed of sixty-seven miles per hour in a fifty-five miles-per-hour zone. As a result, Sioux City issued a citation to Jacobsma. The front page of the citation is entitled " Notice of Violation-Mobile Speed." On the front page, information is presented related to images recorded by the ATE equipment, including photos of the front and back of the vehicle involved in the alleged infraction. The alleged violator is further advised that video of the infraction is available for viewing on a webpage for sixty days from the date of the violation. The front page of the citation contains a note stating that as the registered owner of the vehicle described in the notice, the recipient is responsible for paying the civil penalty unless a timely hearing is requested.

The back page of the citation is entitled " Instruction Page" and presents additional information. It indicates that a recipient has three choices. First, the recipient could simply pay the civil penalty. Second, the recipient could present an affidavit identifying another driver or indicating the vehicle had been sold or stolen. The instruction states that if the affidavit option is chosen, specific information including a copy of the transfer of sale or a copy of a police report of a stolen vehicle must be presented. If the recipient asserts that another person was driving, the notice states that " liability can only be transferred if the nominated driver accepts the responsibility." Finally, the recipient may request a hearing on the matter. If the hearing does not resolve the matter, the recipient is advised that an appeal may be taken to the district court.

C. Appeal of the Alleged Violation.

Upon receiving the citation, Jacobsma chose to dispute the violation. After he was unsuccessful in the administrative review hearing under section 4(b) and 4(c) of the ATE ordinance, he elected to pursue an appeal. As a result, the City filed a civil municipal infraction citation with the Clerk of Court and the matter was placed on the small claims docket.

Jacobsma moved to dismiss the citation on three grounds. First, he claimed sections 3(b) and 3(c) of the ordinance were an unreasonable exercise of police power and therefore in violation of article I, section 1 of the Iowa Constitution. Second,

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Jacobsma asserted section 3(b) of the ordinance created an irrational and unfair presumption in violation of the Due Process Clauses of the United States and Iowa Constitutions. Third, he asserted sections 3(b) and 3(c) of the ordinance violated the limited home rule provision of article III, section 38A of the Iowa Constitution because they were impliedly preempted by various sections of Iowa Code chapter 321, which provide the laws of the road in Iowa.

The City filed a resistance. After a hearing and considering the briefs of the parties, the magistrate declined to dismiss the citation. The magistrate ruled that the ordinance " does not create strict liability" but allows a nominated party to be liable in lieu of the registered owner. With respect to the preemption argument, the magistrate held that this court had previously upheld a similar ordinance in City of Davenport v. Seymour, 755 N.W.2d 533, 545 (Iowa 2008).

As a result of the ruling on the motion to dismiss, the matter proceeded to a hearing before the magistrate. Jacobsma stipulated that he was the registered owner of the vehicle photographed exceeding the speed limit and that the vehicle was traveling at sixty-seven miles per hour when it was photographed by the ATE system. The hearing consisted solely of the stipulations and the oral arguments of the parties. Based on these stipulations, the magistrate entered an order finding Jacobsma liable for the violation.

Jacobsma appealed the magistrate's ruling to district court. On appeal, Jacobsma reprised the three arguments raised in his motion to dismiss before the magistrate.

The district court rejected the arguments made by Jacobsma and affirmed the magistrate's ruling. In a detailed discussion, the district court concluded the ATE ordinance was not preempted by the provisions of Iowa Code chapter 321. The district court also rejected the due process arguments raised by Jacobsma, concluding the statute merely imposed vicarious liability through a rebuttable presumption that the registered owner committed the infraction.

In its original order, the district court did not rule upon Jacobsma's claim that sections 3(b) and 3(c) of the ordinance violated article I, section 1 of the Iowa Constitution. Jacobsma filed a timely motion under Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2) seeking expanded findings. In response, the district court expressly rejected Jacobsma's argument under article I, section 1 of the Iowa Constitution, concluding that the ordinance is rationally related to the public welfare, is a reasonable regulation of traffic, and a valid exercise of the City's police power.

II. Standard of Review.

" A trial court's determination of whether a local ordinance is preempted by state law is a matter for statutory construction and is thus reviewable for correction of errors at law." Seymour, 755 N.W.2d at 537. Constitutional claims are reviewed de novo. See Hensler v. City of Davenport, 790 N.W.2d 569, 578 (Iowa 2010).

III. Substantive Due Process.

A. Introduction.

The United States Supreme Court has identified two separate but related due process concepts. The first, generally referred to as substantive due process, prevents government from " interfere[ing] with rights 'implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.'" United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 746, 107 S.Ct. 2095, 2101, 95 L.Ed.2d 697, 708 (1987) (quoting Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325, 58 S.Ct. 149, 152, 82 L.Ed. 288, 292 (1937), overruled in part on other

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grounds by Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784, 794, 89 S.Ct. 2056, 2062, 23 L.Ed.2d 707, 715-16 (1969)). The second concept is procedural due process. Id. Procedural due process requires a government action impinging upon a protected interest to be implemented in a fair manner. See id.

With respect to substantive due process, the United States Supreme Court has developed a two-step analytical process. See Santi v. Santi, 633 N.W.2d 312, 317 (Iowa 2001). The first step is to identify the nature of the individual interest involved. Id. If the interest is found to be fundamental, strict scrutiny applies. Id.; see also Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292, 301-02, 113 S.Ct. 1439, 1447, 123 L.Ed.2d 1, 16 (1993). Alternatively, if the interest is not fundamental, the government action is subject to a rational basis test. Santi, 633 N.W.2d at 317. Under the rational basis test, the government must have a legitimate interest in the regulation and there must be a reasonable fit between the government interest and the means utilized to advance that interest. Id.

Jacobsma argues the Sioux City ordinance offends substantive due process under article I, section 9 of the Iowa Constitution and under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that state courts may interpret parallel state constitutional provisions differently than federal courts. See Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Co., 449 U.S. 456, 461 n.6, 101 S.Ct. 715, 722 n.6, 66 L.Ed.2d 659, 667 n.6 (1981) (" A state court may, of course, apply a more stringent standard of review as a matter of state law under the State's equivalent to the Equal Protection or Due Process Clauses." ). Even though the Due Process Clauses are similarly phrased in both constitutions, we have stated that we are not bound by United States Supreme Court due process decisions, but look to them for " such light and guidance as they may afford." Davenport Water Co. v. Iowa State Commerce Comm'n, 190 N.W.2d 583, 593 (Iowa 1971), superseded on other grounds by statute, Iowa Code § 17A.19(7) (1975), as stated in Interstate Power Co. v. Iowa State Commerce Comm'n, 463 N.W.2d 699, 702 (Iowa 1990); see Putensen v. Hawkeye Bank of Clay Cnty., 564 N.W.2d 404, 408 (Iowa 1997) (same). Because the Due Process Clauses of the Iowa and Federal Constitutions are similar, we often look to federal cases when interpreting the state due process clause. See Gooch v. Iowa Dep't of Transp., 398 N.W.2d 845, 848 (Iowa 1987).

Although Jacobsma cites both state and federal constitutional provisions, he does not assert that the standards for an Iowa constitutional claim are different from those established under federal law. As a result, for the purposes of this case, we apply the federal standard related to substantive due process with respect to his claim under the Iowa Constitution, reserving the right to apply the standard in a fashion different from federal caselaw. See State v. Halverson, 857 N.W.2d 632, 635 (Iowa 2015); King v. State, 797 N.W.2d 565, 571 (Iowa 2011); State v. Bruegger, 773 N.W.2d 862, 883 (Iowa 2009); Varnum v. Brien, 763 N.W.2d 862, 878 n.6 (Iowa 2009); Racing Ass'n of Cent. Iowa v. Fitzgerald (RACI), 675 N.W.2d 1, 7 (Iowa 2004).

Jacobsma's substantive due process claim is based upon his assertion that the Sioux City ordinance creates an arbitrary presumption that the vehicle's owner was the violator of the ordinance and the only way to rebut such a presumption is to show that the owner of the vehicle filed a stolen vehicle report. Jacobsma views this

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approach as fundamentally unfair and constitutionally deficient.

In support of his argument, Jacobsma cites Hensler, 790 N.W.2d at 569. In Hensler, we considered a substantive due process challenge to an ordinance that imposed a rebuttable presumption that a parent failed to exercise control over a minor child when that child engaged in " occurrences" that amounted to unlawful acts. Id. at 576, 578. We found the rebuttable presumption was arbitrary and irrational in light of the multiple factors that could cause juveniles to engage in behavior contrary to the ordinance. Id. at 587-88. Jacobsma argues that the presumption in the ATE ordinance is just as arbitrary or irrational. He argues the ordinance limits the ability of a ...

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