Walker v. City of Toledo

Decision Date28 June 2013
Docket NumberNo. L–12–1056.,L–12–1056.
Citation994 N.E.2d 467
PartiesBradley L. WALKER, Appellant v. City of TOLEDO, et al., Appellees.
CourtOhio Court of Appeals


Andrew R. Mayle, Fremont, Jeremiah S. Ray, Lakewood, Ronald J. Mayle, Fremont, and John T. Murray, Sandusky, for appellant.

Adam W. Loukx, Director of Law, and Eileen M. Granata, Senior Attorney, for appellee City of Toledo.

Quintin F. Lindsmith, Sommer L. Sheely and James P. Schuck, Columbus, for appellee RedFlex Traffic Systems, Inc.


{¶ 1} Appellant appeals a judgment of the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas dismissing a putative class action unjust enrichment suit against a city and traffic enforcement camera company. Because we conclude the trial court's dismissal of the suit improper, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

{¶ 2} In 2003, appellee city of Toledo (“city”) instituted an automated red light enforcement system. Appellee RedFlex Traffic Systems, Inc. (“RedFlex”) provided a camera system that synchronized with traffic signals to take pictures of automobiles that entered an intersection after the traffic light turned red. Speed measuring devices were later added. RedFlex installed, maintains and monitors the cameras. Appellees allegedly share the revenues generated from auto owners that are sent a civil “notice of liability” after having been photographed during a red light or speed violation.

{¶ 3} Appellant, Bradley L. Walker, was one of those who received such a notice and paid a $120 “civil penalty.” On February 24, 2011, appellant brought suit on behalf of himself and those similarly situated to recover the “civil penalty” he, and the others, paid. Appellant did not contest the validity of red light cameras. He concedes they are legal. Rather he asserted that the legal structure by which such penalties were extracted violated the Ohio Constitution, making the penalties collected unlawful. Appellant sought return of such money taken under the doctrine of unjust enrichment.

{¶ 4} Appellant advanced three theories as a basis for recovery. First, he maintained that by enacting the ordinance governing red light cameras, Toledo Municipal Code 313.12, the city unconstitutionally usurped the jurisdiction of the Toledo Municipal Court by diverting challenges to the violation notices to an administrative hearing officer set up within the police department. Second, appellant suggested the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague because it delegates adjudicatory authority to the Toledo Police without articulating intelligible governance principles. Finally, appellant alleged, the Toledo Police failed to establish any administrative procedures by which a violation notice could be challenged, denying due process to those who received such notices.

{¶ 5} Both appellees filed a motion to dismiss appellant's complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted, pursuant to Civ.R. 12(B)(6). After briefing, the trial court granted appellees' motion and dismissed appellant's complaint.

{¶ 6} From this judgment, appellant brings this appeal. Appellant sets forth a single assignment of error:

The trial court erred in ruling that Mr. Walker failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

{¶ 7} Review of a judgment granting a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) motion is de novo. Perrysburg Twp. v. Rossford, 103 Ohio St.3d 79, 2004-Ohio-4362, 814 N.E.2d 44, ¶ 5. When ruling on a motion to dismiss for a failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a court must presume the truth of the factual allegations in the complaint and must make all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Mitchell v. Lawson Milk Co., 40 Ohio St.3d 190, 192, 532 N.E.2d 753 (1988). It must appear beyond doubt from the complaint that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts entitling him or her to recover. O'Brien v. Univ. Community Tenants Union, Inc., 42 Ohio St.2d 242, 327 N.E.2d 753 (1975), syllabus. For these reasons, motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim are rarely successful. Tri–State Computer Exchange v. Burt, 1st Dist. No. C020345, 2003-Ohio-3197, 2003 WL 21414688, ¶ 12.

Toledo Municipal Code 313.12

{¶ 8} With the enactment of Toledo Municipal Code 313.12, the city adopted what is characterized in the code as a “civil enforcement system for red light and speeding camera system violations.” The plan imposes “monetary liability” on the owner of a vehicle for failure to comply with traffic lights or posted speed limits. City transportation, police and law departments are charged with the administration of the system. Police and the transportation division are tasked with choosing the location of automated red light and speed monitoring devices and maintaining the devices once installed. Apparent violations are to be processed by city officials or its agents. When a violation is recorded, the registered owner of the offending vehicle is sent a “Notice of Liability,” Toledo Municipal Code 313.12(a), indicating that he or she is liable for a “civil penalty” of $120. Toledo Municipal Code 313.12(d)(1)(2).

{¶ 9} The ordinance declares that the fact an individual is the registered owner of a vehicle is “prima-facie evidence” that he or she was operating the vehicle at the time of the offense. Toledo Municipal Code 313.12(c)(3). An owner of a vehicle may be absolved of such presumptive liability only if, within 21 days of the notice, he or she furnishes a hearing officer with an affidavit identifying the person operating the vehicle at the time of the offense (at which point, presumably, liability shifts to the person informed upon) or a police report showing that the vehicle was reported stolen prior to the offense. Toledo Municipal Code 313.12(c)(4).

{¶ 10} Toledo Municipal Code 313.13(d)(4) describes an appeal process. The provision, in its entirety, provides:

A notice of appeal shall be filed with the Hearing Officer within twenty-one (21) days from the date listed on the “Notice of Liability.” The failure to give notice of appeal or pay the civil penalty within this time period shall constitute a waiver of the right to contest the citation and will be considered an admission. Appeals shall be heard through an administrative process established by the City of Toledo Police Department. A decision in favor of the City of Toledo may be enforced by means of a civil action or any other means provided by the Ohio Revised Code.

{¶ 11} In their motion to dismiss, appellees maintained that the ordinance is constitutional. Moreover, appellee city argued that unjust enrichment claims cannot be maintained against a municipality, since appellant did not appeal his violation there could be no due process violation and appellant lacked standing to bring an action. Appellee RedFlex also asserted that appellant waived a challenge to the law because he paid his fine and did not appeal, and that a constitutional challenge does not apply to RedFlex because it is not a state actor.

I. Mendenhall v. Akron

{¶ 12} Appellee city first sought dismissal on the ground that the Ohio Supreme Court has approved the use of speed and red light detection devices in a civil administrative liability context in Mendenhall v. City of Akron, 117 Ohio St.3d 33, 2008-Ohio-270, 881 N.E.2d 255. The trial court properly ruled Mendenhall not dispositive of this matter. The question certified to the court in Mendenhall was whether, under home rule, a municipality may enact civil penalties for acts deemed criminal offenses by the state. Id. at ¶ 2. The court ruled that, since Akron's ordinance did not alter or supersede Ohio law, it was compatible with the city's home rule powers. Id. at ¶ 43. The question of the constitutionality of the ordinance in other respects was not before the court.

{¶ 13} We note that the Mendenhall court issued a caveat to its decision when, at ¶ 40, the court stated, [a]lthough there are due process questions regarding the operation of the Akron Ordinance and those similar to it, those questions are not appropriately before us at this time and will not be discussed here.” The trial court concluded that this remark was a “passing comment.” We view the statement rather as an express limitation on the scope of the Mendenhall decision.

II. Standing—Immunities

{¶ 14} Appellee city suggested to the trial court that appellant lacked standing to bring the suit and that a municipality cannot be liable in quasi-contract. Appellee RedFlex argued appellant is barred from challenging the ordinance because he failed to exhaust administrative remedies. In any event, appellee RedFlex insisted, it could not be held liable for constitutional infirmities because it is not a state actor. The trial court rejected all of these arguments, and properly so.

{¶ 15} A party who has been or will be adversely affected by the enforcement of an ordinance has standing to attack its constitutionality. State v. Bloomer, 122 Ohio St.3d 200, 2009-Ohio-2462, 909 N.E.2d 1254, ¶ 30. Appellant alleges that he has received a notice of civil liability for a red light violation and has paid the penalty. This monetary injury produces sufficient interest in the operation of the ordinance to challenge its constitutionality.

{¶ 16} With respect to a suit in unjust enrichment, the general rule is that “all governmental liability ex contractu must be express and must be entered into in the prescribed manner.” Perrysburg Twp. v. City of Rossford, 149 Ohio App.3d 645, 2002-Ohio-5498, 778 N.E.2d 619, ¶ 58 (6th Dist.), quoting Kraft Constr. Co. v. Cuyahoga Cty. Bd. of Commrs., 128 Ohio App.3d 33, 44, 713 N.E.2d 1075 (8th Dist.1998). Nevertheless, it has been held that a suit seeking the return of specific funds wrongfully collected or held by the state may be maintained in equity. Santos v. Ohio Bur. of Workers' Comp., 101 Ohio St.3d 74, 2004-Ohio-28, 801 N.E.2d 441, syllabus. Accord Judy v. Ohio Bur. of Motor Veh., 100 Ohio St.3d 122, 2003-Ohio-5277, 797 N.E.2d...

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