666 F.3d 1337 (D.C. Cir. 2011), 10-7178, Dixon v. District of Columbia

Docket Nº:10-7178.
Citation:666 F.3d 1337
Opinion Judge:EDWARDS, Senior Circuit Judge:
Party Name:Henry N. DIXON and Cuong Thanh Phung, Appellants v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Appellee.
Attorney:Gregory L. Lattimer argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellants. Stacy L. Anderson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, argued the cause for appellee. With her on the brief were Irvin B. Nathan, Attorney General, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor...
Judge Panel:Before: EDWARDS, GINSBURG,[*] and RANDOLPH, Senior Circuit Judges.
Case Date:December 20, 2011
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
 
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Page 1337

666 F.3d 1337 (D.C. Cir. 2011)

Henry N. DIXON and Cuong Thanh Phung, Appellants

v.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Appellee.

No. 10-7178.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

December 20, 2011

Argued Sept. 19, 2011.

Page 1338

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:10-cv-00297).

Gregory L. Lattimer argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellants.

Stacy L. Anderson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, argued the cause for appellee. With her on the brief were Irvin B. Nathan, Attorney General, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and Donna M. Murasky, Deputy Solicitor General.

Before: EDWARDS, GINSBURG,[*] and RANDOLPH, Senior Circuit Judges.

OPINION

EDWARDS, Senior Circuit Judge:

Appellants Henry Dixon and Cuong Thanh Phung were arrested in 2008 and 2009, respectively, in the District of Columbia (" the District" or " D.C." or " the city" ) for speeding in excess of thirty miles per hour (" mph" ) above the posted speed limit. They filed this class action on behalf of all individuals who have been arrested and subjected to criminal penalties for such speeding in the last three years.

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They allege that the District's traffic enforcement policies deny them the equal protection of law and thus violate the Fifth Amendment. See Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497, 74 S.Ct. 693, 98 L.Ed. 884 (1954).

Specifically, Appellants object to the District's policy of subjecting motorists who speed in excess of thirty mph over the speed limit to different penalties, depending on how they are caught. A motorist who is stopped by a police officer for speeding over thirty mph above the speed limit is subject to arrest, and possibly criminal prosecution and imprisonment. See 18 D.C. CODE MUN. REGS. § 2200.12 (Lexis 2009). A motorist who is detected speeding over thirty mph above the posted speed limit by the District's Automated Traffic Enforcement System (" the ATE" or " the System" ) is subject to only a contestable civil fine. See D.C.CODE § 50-2209.01-50-2209.02 (2001). In other words, motorists speeding over thirty mph above the speed limit face substantially stiffer penalties if they are apprehended by police officers than if they are detected by the ATE.

The District Court granted the District's motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), holding that Appellants had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Dixon v. District of Columbia, 753 F.Supp.2d 6 (D.D.C.2010). In reaching this judgment, the District Court first acknowledged that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to the District of Columbia through the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Id. at 8 n. 1 (citing Bolling, 347 U.S. at 499, 74 S.Ct. 693). The court next posited that the Equal Protection Clause is " essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike." Id. at 8 (quoting City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 87 L.Ed.2d 313 (1985)). The court then found that, because motorists who are apprehended by police officers for speeding are not similarly situated to motorists detected speeding by the ATE, the two groups could be subjected to different penalties for the same conduct. See id. at 8-9. The District Court thus concluded that the District's traffic enforcement policies do not run afoul of the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment. Id. at 9.

We affirm the District Court's judgment, albeit on different grounds. Appellants may be correct that motorists who are stopped by police officers for speeding in excess of thirty mph above the speed limit are similarly situated to at least some motorists detected engaging in identical conduct by the ATE. Their claim still lacks merit, however, because Appellants' challenge cannot survive rational basis review. The District's disputed traffic enforcement policies neither burden a fundamental right nor target a suspect class. Therefore, in " attacking the rationality of the [District's] legislative classification[, Appellants] have the burden to negative every conceivable basis which might support it." FCC v. Beach Commc'ns, Inc., 508 U.S. 307, 315, 113 S.Ct. 2096, 124 L.Ed.2d 211 (1993) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). Appellants have not met this burden.

I. Background

A. Facts

In 1999, the District introduced the ATE to deter speeding violations. The System employs radars and cameras to detect and photograph instances of speeding throughout the city. After the ATE records a speeding violation, the Mayor's office automatically mails " a summons and a notice of infraction to the name and address of the registered owner of the vehicle on file with the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services or

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the appropriate state motor vehicle agency." D.C.CODE § 50-2209.02(b). The captured image is treated as " prima facie evidence of an infraction and may be submitted without authentication." Id. § 50-2209.01(b). Upon receipt of the notice and summons, the owner of the vehicle becomes liable for the payment of a civil fine assessed for the infraction, " unless the owner can furnish evidence that the vehicle was, at the time of the infraction, in the custody, care, or control of another person." Id. § 50-2209.02(a). The owner of the vehicle may also request a hearing to challenge the infraction. Id. § 50-2209.02(c). It appears that no other penalties may be imposed against a motorist for any speeding violations detected by the ATE.

Speeding motorists also may be apprehended by officers of the Metropolitan Police Department (" MPD" ). Indeed, for nearly two decades, a MPD General Order has required officers to effectuate arrests of motorists who operate their vehicles " over 30 mph in excess of the posted speed limit." METRO. POLICE DEP'T, GENERAL ORDER 303. 1, at 4 (1992), available at http:// www 2. justiceonline. org/ dcmpd/ GO 30301. pdf. A District regulation further provides that such motorists may be subject to criminal prosecution, and, upon conviction, a fine of $300 or imprisonment for up to ninety days. 18 D.C. CODE MUN. REGS. § 2200.12.

A MPD officer caught Appellant Dixon speeding in excess of thirty mph above the speed limit in 2008. Compl. ¶ 14, reprinted in Joint Appendix (" J.A." ) 3. Dixon was arrested and detained for several hours. Id. He faced a maximum punishment of a $300 fine or ninety days of incarceration. Id. A MPD officer caught Appellant Phung speeding more than thirty mph above the speed limit in 2009. Id. ¶ 15. Phung was also arrested and detained, and he faced the same potential penalties. Id. Appellants filed this class action on behalf of allegedly thousands of individuals who have been subjected to arrest and criminal prosecution for speeding over thirty mph beyond the limit in the last three years. See id. ¶ ¶ 2, 16, 17. They assert that many other motorists, who have been detected engaging in identical conduct by the ATE, have faced only civil fines. The District does not dispute this. Finally, Appellants argue that the District's policy of subjecting motorists to disparate punishment based on the method of detection violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment. Id. ¶ 4; see also Bolling, 347 U.S. at 499, 74 S.Ct. 693. They seek declaratory and remedial injunctive relief, damages, fees, and costs. Compl. ¶ 4.

B. Proceedings Before the District Court

The District Court granted D.C.'s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The District Court stated that " [t]he threshold inquiry in evaluating an equal protection claim is ... to determine whether a person is similarly situated to those persons who allegedly received favorable treatment." Dixon, 753 F.Supp.2d at 8-9 (first alteration in original) (quoting Women Prisoners of the D.C. Dep't of Corr. v. District of Columbia, 93 F.3d 910, 924 (D.C.Cir.1996) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The District Court found that motorists in Appellants' class— those who are caught speeding by MPD officers— are dissimilar to motorists detected speeding by the ATE. The District Court thus concluded that the District's traffic enforcement policies do not...

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