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City of Cedar Rapids v. Leaf

Supreme Court of Iowa

August 31, 2018


         On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Patrick R. Grady, Judge.

         Plaintiff requests further review after magistrate in small claims court action found a violation of a municipal ordinance.

          James C. Larew of Larew Law Office, Iowa City, for appellant.

          James H. Flitz, City Attorney, and Patricia G. Kropf, Assistant City Attorney, for appellee.

          APPEL, JUSTICE.

         This case involves the enforcement of an automated traffic enforcement (ATE) system, but unlike its companion case, Behm v. City of Cedar Rapids, _ N.W.2d _ (Iowa 2018), where the district court granted the city's motion for summary judgment, this case proceeded to trial, with a judgment adverse to the defendant.

         In this appeal, Marla Leaf, a registered vehicle owner, makes a series of challenges to an adverse judgment arising out of the operation of an ATE system established by the City of Cedar Rapids (Cedar Rapids) through a municipal ordinance. Leaf received a notice of violation from Cedar Rapids asserting that she was speeding while traveling southbound at the J Avenue exit on Interstate 380 (I-380) where the ATE system was operating. She contested the citation by following the directions on the notice. After a telephonic hearing, an administrative hearing officer ruled against her challenge to the citation. Leaf then requested Cedar Rapids file a municipal infraction against her in small claims court pursuant to the ordinance.

         As a result of Leaf's request, Cedar Rapids filed the municipal infraction naming Leaf as a defendant in the district court. A magistrate sitting as a small claims court held an evidentiary hearing on the matter. The magistrate found clear and convincing evidence that Leaf violated the ATE ordinance, rejected Leaf's legal challenges to enforcement, and assessed a civil penalty of $75, plus court costs. Leaf appealed the small claims decision to the district court. The district court affirmed.

         Leaf appealed the ruling of the district court. On appeal, Leaf claims that Cedar Rapids failed to show a violation of the ordinance by clear and convincing evidence. She further asserts that the ordinance establishing the ATE system unlawfully granted jurisdiction over enforcement to an unauthorized administrative tribunal. Finally, Leaf challenges the enforcement of Cedar Rapids' ATE ordinance on several constitutional theories. Specifically, Leaf claims the ordinance violates the Iowa Constitution by unlawfully delegating police power to a private entity, the ATE contractor Gatso USA, Inc. (Gatso). She further claims that the ordinance, on its face and as applied, violates procedural and substantive due process of law and offends the equal protection and privileges and immunities clauses under the Iowa Constitution.

         We transferred the appeal to the court of appeals. The court of appeals affirmed the district court judgment. For the reasons expressed below, given the posture of this case, we affirm the judgment of the district court and the decision of the court of appeals concluding that Leaf violated the ATE ordinance.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background.

         A. Structure of Cedar Rapids ATM System.

         1. The ordinance. In 2009, Cedar Rapids enacted an ordinance establishing an ATE system. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Mun. Code § 61.138 (2016).[1] The ordinance authorizes Cedar Rapids to "deploy, erect or cause to have erected an automated traffic enforcement system for making video images of vehicles that . . . fail to obey speed regulations . . . in the city." Id. § 61.138(a). The ordinance authorizes the hiring of a contractor "with which the City of Cedar Rapids contracts to provide equipment and/or services in connection with the Automated Traffic Enforcement System." Id. § 61.138(b)(2).

         The ordinance provides that when the ATE system generates an image of a speeding vehicle, a notice of violation is mailed to the vehicle owner within thirty days of obtaining the owner's identifying information. Id. § 61.138(d)(1). The ordinance further provides that a vehicle owner may contest the citation by requesting an administrative hearing "held at the Cedar Rapids Police Department before an administrative appeals board . . . consisting of one or more impartial fact finders." Id. § 61.138(e)(1). Upon receiving the decision of the board, the ordinance provides a vehicle owner with the option of either paying the fine or submitting a request that Cedar Rapids file a municipal infraction in the small claims division of district court. Id. § 61.138(e)(2).

         In any small claims court proceeding, Cedar Rapids is required to show "by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence" that the vehicle was travelling in excess of the posted speed limit. Iowa Code § 364.22(6)(b) (2015). The ordinance authorizes a fine of between $25 and $750. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Mun. Code § 61.138(c)-(d). The ordinance also notes that state-mandated court costs are added to the amount of the fine if the vehicle owner is found guilty after a small claims court proceeding. Id. § 61.138(e); see also Iowa Code § 364.22(8).

         2. Gatso's contract with Cedar Rapids.

         Pursuant to the ordinance, Cedar Rapids entered into a contract with Gatso in 2009. Under the contract, Gatso installed ATE cameras at selected locations. Gatso owned the ATE equipment and was responsible for annual calibrations and preventative maintenance.

         Gatso was also responsible for developing images and obtaining data, including speed calculations, from the ATE equipment. If an event met the criteria for a violation, Gatso sent the license plate data to a database for name, address, and vehicle information. Gatso then presented the prescreened information that supported potential violations to the Cedar Rapids Police Department. The police department reviewed the information and either approved or rejected each violation. If Cdar Rapids approved a violation, Gatso sent a notice of violation by mail to the registered owner of the vehicle.

         B. Gatso's Notices to Alleged Violators.

         1. Content of notice of violation.

         Vehicle owners who were alleged to have violated the ATE ordinance received a "Notice of Violation." The notice of violation displayed the City of Cedar Rapids logo and had the signature of the Cedar Rapids law enforcement officer who approved issuing the citation.

         The front page of the notice of violation provided information about the time and place of the alleged violation along with two photos of the vehicle recorded by the ATE system. The front page of the notice of violation provided the following admonition:

Failure to pay the civil fine or to contest liability within (30) calendar days is an admission of liability in the full amount of the civil fine assessed and will result in the loss of your right to a hearing. In addition, you may be subject to formal collection procedures including, but not limited to, being reported to a credit reporting agency, and a civil lawsuit.

         The backside of the notice of violation provided information about how to pay the civil penalty. It also stated that a person receiving the notice of violation had a right to contest the violation in person at an administrative hearing. The notice of violation suggested that recipients wishing to contest the violation "review the city ordinance, the images, and the actual recorded video (if applicable) of the infraction" and provided a limited list of "valid defenses." The list of valid defenses did not include a defense that the driver was a person other than the vehicle's registered owner. The backside of the notice of violation cautioned that the failure to appear at an administrative hearing "will result in a final determination of liability." The notice of violation made no mention of the recipient's option of requesting Cedar Rapids initiate a small claims action in district court where Cedar Rapids would bear the burden of proof of showing a violation "by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence." Iowa Code § 364.22(6)(b).

         2. Content of "notice of determination of liability.

         " If the first notice of violation did not result in payment or the scheduling of an administrative hearing, Gatso sent out another document to the vehicle owner entitled "Notice of Determination 2nd Notice." As with the notice of violation, the notice of determination carried the City of Cedar Rapids logo and had the signature of a law enforcement officer.

         The notice of determination of liability provided the same information about the time and place of the alleged offense as the notice of violation. It contained, however, a slightly different admonition than the original notice of violation:

Failure to pay the civil fine or to appeal this determination within (30) calendar days may result in the possible imposition of a late fee. In addition, you may be subject to formal collection procedures including, but not limited to, being reported to a credit reporting agency, and a civil lawsuit.

         The backside of the notice of determination also differed from the notice of violation. Unlike the notice of violation, the notice of determination declared that citizens may resolve the notice of determination by paying the fine or "request[ing] a trial before a judge or magistrate" within thirty days of the date listed on the front of the notice.

         C. Appeal Before Administrative Appeals Board.

         Although the ATE ordinance refers to an administrative appeals board, the ordinance states that the board consisted of "one or more impartial fact finders." Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Mun. Code § 61.138(3)(1). In the administrative hearing in this case, the board consisted of a single person. The ordinance does not establish procedures or criteria for appointment, nor does the ordinance describe a burden of proof or the procedures to be applied in the administrative proceedings.

         D. IDOT Rulemaking and Enforcement Actions.

         1. IDOT rules related to ATE systems.

         As in Behm, Leaf relies on IDOT rulemaking and enforcement actions in support of her appeal. Several years after the Cedar Rapids ATE system commenced operation, in February of 2014, the IDOT promulgated administrative rules relating to ATE systems. See Iowa Admin. Code ch. 761-144. The rules declared that their purpose was "to establish requirements, procedures, and responsibilities in the use of automated traffic enforcement systems on the primary road system" and to "ensure[] consistency statewide" in their use. Id. r. 761-144.1.

         The IDOT rules sharply restricted the implementation of ATE systems on primary roadways. The rules directed that ATE systems were to be considered only "after other engineering and enforcement solutions have been explored and implemented" and were not to be used as a long-term solution to speeding or red-light running. Id. r. 761-144.4(1)(a)- (b). The rules provided that ATE systems were to be used only "in extremely limited situations on interstate roads because [such roads] are the safest class of any roadway in the state and typically . . . carry a significant amount of non-familiar motorists." Id. r. 761-144.4(1)(c). The rules further stated that ATE systems should only be considered "in areas with a documented high-crash or high-risk location" in "[a]n area or intersection with a significant history of crashes which can be attributed to red-light running or speeding," or "[a] school zone." Id. r. 761-144.4(1)(d).

          The IDOT rules contained minimum requirements for the operation of ATE systems. Id. r. 761-144.6. Among other requirements, the rules provided that ATE systems could not "be placed within the first 1, 000 feet of a lower speed limit." Id. r. 761-144.6(b)(10). The rules required that ATE "fixed systems" be calibrated at least quarterly "by a local law enforcement officer trained in the use and calibration of the system." Id. r. 761-144.6(4).

         The IDOT rules required that each jurisdiction with an active ATE system on primary highways prepare an annual report on the operation of the system and submit the report to the IDOT. Id. r. 761-144.7(1)- (2). The local evaluation was to include (1) an analysis of the impact of the ATE system in reducing speeds or red-light running; (2) the number and type of collisions at the sites, including before-and-after implementation comparisons; (3) an evaluation of the ATE system's impact on critical safety issues; (4) the total number of citations issued during each calendar year; and (5) certification that the calibration requirements of the rule had been met. Id. r. 761-144.7(1)(a)(1)-(5).

         Upon receipt of the annual report, the IDOT used the information from the report to reevaluate the continued use of the ATE system. Id. r. 761-144.8(1). The rules provided that continued use of the ATE system was contingent upon the effectiveness of the system, appropriate administration by the local jurisdiction, continued compliance with ATE rules, changes in traffic patterns, infrastructure improvements, and implementation of other identified safety measures. Id. r. 761-144.8(1)- (2). The IDOT "reserve[d] the right to require removal or modification of a system in a particular location, as deemed appropriate." Id. r. 761- 144.8(2).

          2. IDOT evaluation of the Cedar Rapids ATE ...

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