Clevelanders not owed refunds from traffic cameras, supreme court says

By: - January 11, 2023 4:40 am

A traffic camera. Getty Images.

In the last of several rulings on traffic camera usage in 2022, the Ohio Supreme Court found that Cleveland residents aren’t owed refunds for fines leveled for traffic tickets.

The cameras, used to catch speed and red-light violations, are now defunct, but those who did not contest the tickets can’t be reimbursed, according to the majority of the court.

The fines were $100 for red-light violations and speeding violations up of up to 24 miles per hour above the speed limit, and $200 for speeding more than 25 miles per hour over the speed limit and any speed violation in a school zone or construction zone.

Appeals were required to be filed within 21 days of the ticket.

Cleveland ended the program in 2014 after a vote by residents to ban the traffic cameras.

But drivers who received tickets under the traffic camera program before it ended asked for refunds of their paid fines after a separate case in the Eighth District Court of Appeals determined drivers who were leasing their vehicles weren’t covered under the definition of “owner,” which the Cleveland ordinance allowing the traffic cameras used to apply traffic violation fines.

Residents filed a lawsuit in 2016, and again in 2020 after the court ruled it didn’t have authority to consider the lawsuit. It agreed to consider the case again after the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and an appeal court allowed the case to proceed.

This time around, a 4-3 decision by the court said the payment of fines and no dispute by the ticketed drivers “ended the case between appellees and the city as to those incidents,” according to the majority decision written by Justice Sharon Kennedy, now chief justice of the court.

“That appellees decided to take a shortcut in the administrative process does not mean that they did not participate in the process,” Kennedy wrote. “They chose an available route: to not dispute their tickets and pay the fines.”

In one of her final cases as head of the court, now-retired Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor chose to dissent. O’Connor disagreed with the conclusion of the majority, that because the drivers had paid the fines, they had chosen their judicial fate in the matter, with no further recourse.

But because the drivers had received warnings about increased fines and even a “credit rating warning” for delinquent fines, O’Connor felt the drivers’ hands were tied, despite attempts to appeal.

“Thus, according to the lead opinion, the only path available to appellees … to recover the fines the city had improperly collected from the vehicle lessees under the city’s program was for appellees to subject themselves to an expensive and lengthy legal process while receiving threats about the validity of their legal actions, threats of increased penalties and negative hits to their credit scores,” O’Connor wrote.

The Ohio Supreme Court had previously ruled that state funding can be taken away from cities that use traffic enforcement as cameras, and said the case of New Miami drivers challenging city traffic cameras didn’t need to a ruling because there was no constitutional question.



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.