City of Davenport v. Seymour

Decision Date29 August 2008
Docket NumberNo. 06-1753.,06-1753.
Citation755 N.W.2d 533
PartiesCITY OF DAVENPORT, Appellee, v. Thomas J. SEYMOUR, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Michael J. McCarthy of McCarthy, Lammers & Hines, Davenport, and Randall C. Wilson of ACLU of Iowa Foundation, Inc., Des Moines, for appellant.

Christopher S. Jackson, Davenport, for appellee.

APPEL, Justice.

In this case, the court must decide whether traffic regulations and enforcement mechanisms contained in Iowa Code chapter 321 and other code provisions were intended by the legislature to prohibit a municipality from establishing an automatic traffic enforcement system through which the city levels civil penalties against the owners of vehicles that fail to obey red light traffic signals or violate speed laws. Applying our well-established method of preemption analysis, we hold that the legislature has not preempted this automatic traffic enforcement ordinance through these statutory provisions.

I. Factual and Procedural Background.

If the twentieth century may be characterized as the Era of the Automobile, it was also the Era of Automobile Regulation. In 1902, officers in Westchester County, New York, concealed themselves in fake tree trunks at specified intervals and, armed with stop watches and telephones, attempted to detect and apprehend speeders. Not to be outdone, innovative constables in Massachusetts in 1909 deployed a method of detecting speeding motorists that used a combination of a camera and a stop watch. See Commonwealth v. Buxton, 205 Mass. 49, 91 N.E. 128 (1910). These comparatively simple approaches to traffic law enforcement were subsequently replaced in the 1940s and 1950s by "radar" detection systems. Attacked as Orwellian when first introduced, the use of radar is now a standard tool of law enforcement.

Innovation in traffic management has not been limited to speed control. As every motorist knows, automated stop lights have come to replace the blue-suited patrolman with outstretched arms engaged in perpetual motion with a whistle at the ready. Most municipal authorities believe police officers have better things to do than to control traffic at intersections.

Modern technological advances have also led to the development of more sophisticated "automated traffic enforcement" (ATE) systems. Using a combination of cameras and sensors, the ATEs allow municipal governments to detect traffic violations without a law enforcement officer present on the scene. Promoted by private vendors who have developed and operated the systems, ATE red light cameras were first deployed abroad over thirty-five years ago and according to industry sources are now operational in forty-five countries. Kevin P. Shannon, Speeding Towards Disaster: How Cleveland's Traffic Cameras Violate the Ohio Constitution, 55 Clev. St. L.Rev. 607, 610 (2007). As of 2005, ATE speed detection systems were in use in as many as seventy-five countries. Id.

In this country, speed cameras have been utilized on a limited basis in several states, including Arizona, California, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and the District of Columbia. Red light systems have also been utilized by a number of municipalities, including those in Arizona, California, Virginia, and North Carolina. Id. at 611.

The advent of automatic traffic enforcement has prompted legislative action in a number of jurisdictions. Some state legislatures have elected expressly to authorize local governments to establish ATE systems provided that certain statutory requirements are met, including posting notice to drivers that automated traffic devices are in use. See, e.g., Colo.Rev. Stat. § 42-4-110.5 (2008); N.C. Gen.Stat. § 160A-300.1 (2007). Other states have authorized ATE ordinances only in the vicinity of schools, residency zones, or railroad crossings. See, e.g., Ark.Code §§ 27-52-110, 27-52-111 (2007); Md.Code Ann., Transp. § 21-809 (2008). Some states have explicitly prohibited their use. See, e.g., N.J. Stat. Ann. § 39:4-103.1 (2008); W. Va.Code § 17C-6-7a (2008); Wis. Stat. § 349.02(3) (2008). Most states, like Iowa, have no legislation directly addressing the issue.

In 2004, the City of Davenport enacted an ordinance entitled "Automatic Traffic Enforcement." Davenport Mun.Code § 10.16.070 (2005). The Davenport ATE ordinance authorized the city to install cameras and vehicle sensors at various locations in the city to make video images of vehicles that fail to obey red light traffic signals or speeding regulations. The information obtained from these automated devices is then forwarded to the Davenport Police Department for review. The Davenport police then determine whether there has been a violation of the city's traffic control ordinances.

Under the Davenport ATE ordinance, a vehicle owner is issued a notice and is liable for a civil fine as a result of any detected violation. A vehicle owner may rebut the city's claim by showing that a stolen vehicle report was made on the vehicle which encompassed the time in which the violation allegedly occurred. Citations issued pursuant to the Davenport ATE ordinance are not reported to the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) for the purpose of the vehicle owner's driving record.

A recipient of an automated traffic citation may dispute the citation by requesting the issuance of a municipal infraction citation. If so disputed, the recipient is entitled to a trial before a judge or magistrate. In the event the disputing vehicle owner is found to have violated the ordinance, state-mandated court costs are added to the amount of the violation.

Thomas J. Seymour felt the sting of the Davenport ATE ordinance on April 28, 2006. He received a citation alleging that his vehicle traveled forty-nine miles per hour in a thirty-five mile-per-hour zone on March 17, 2006. Seymour contested the citation.

Seymour's case was tried to a magistrate on a stipulated record. Seymour claimed that the ATE ordinance violated due process by shifting the burden of proof to the defendant to disprove a citation, by depriving a defendant of the presumption of innocence, by changing the burden of proof from the reasonable doubt standard to the lesser standard of clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence, and by shifting liability to vehicle owners, not drivers. Seymour also claimed that the Davenport ATE ordinance was invalid because it was preempted by traffic regulations and enforcement mechanisms contained in Iowa Code chapter 321 and sections 364.22(5)(b), 805.6, and 805.8A.

The magistrate rejected all of Seymour's claims, found that he violated the ordinance, and entered judgment against him. Seymour appealed to the district court, which affirmed the judgment.

We granted Seymour's application for discretionary review. While Seymour raised constitutional challenges based on due process in the lower courts, he has not pressed these claims on appeal and, as a result, these issues are not before us. The only issue raised in this appeal is whether the Davenport ATE ordinance is preempted because it is inconsistent or contrary to Iowa's statewide traffic laws as cited by Seymour.

II. Standard of Review.

A trial court's determination of whether a local ordinance is preempted by state law is a matter of statutory construction and is thus reviewable for correction of errors at law. State v. Tarbox, 739 N.W.2d 850, 852 (Iowa 2007).

III. Discussion.

A. Principles of Preemption Analysis. The central issue in this case is whether the provisions of the Davenport ATE ordinance are preempted by traffic regulation and enforcement provisions of Iowa Code chapter 321 (laws of the road) and sections 364.22(5)(b) (municipal infractions), 805.6 (form of citation in criminal cases), and 805.8A (schedule of criminal fines). An overview of the principles of preemption analysis provides the framework for resolution of the issue presented on appeal.

In 1968, the Iowa Constitution was amended to provide municipal governments with limited powers of home rule. Iowa Const. art. III, § 38A. The home rule amendment established what we have referred to as legislative home rule. Berent v. City of Iowa City, 738 N.W.2d 193, 196 (Iowa 2007). Under legislative home rule, the legislature retains the unfettered power to prohibit a municipality from exercising police powers, even over matters traditionally thought to involve local affairs. Conversely, as long as an exercise of police power over local affairs is not "inconsistent with the laws of the general assembly," municipalities may act without express legislative approval or authorization. Iowa Const. art. III, § 38A. City authorities are no longer frightened by Dillon's ghost.1

In order to determine whether municipal action is permitted or prohibited by the legislature, courts have developed the doctrine of preemption. The general thrust of the preemption doctrine in the context of local affairs is that municipalities cannot act if the legislature has directed otherwise. When exercised, legislative power trumps the power of local authorities.

We have recognized three types of preemption. The first type, generally known as express preemption, applies where the legislature has specifically prohibited local action in a given area. Goodell v. Humboldt County, 575 N.W.2d 486, 492-93 (Iowa 1998); Chelsea Theater Corp. v. City of Burlington, 258 N.W.2d 372, 373 (Iowa 1977). In cases involving express preemption, the specific language used by the legislature ordinarily provides the courts with the tools necessary to resolve any remaining marginal or mechanical problems in statutory interpretation.

Where the legislature seeks to prohibit municipal action in a particular subject area, express preemption offers the highest degree of certainty with the added benefit of discouraging unseemly internecine power struggles between state and local governments. Express preemption is most consistent with the notion that "[l]imitations on a municipality's power over local affairs...

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