Worthy v. City of Phx. City, Alabama

Decision Date18 July 2019
Docket NumberNo. 17-14718,17-14718
Citation930 F.3d 1206
Parties Thomas F. WORTHY, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, James D. Adams, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, Willcox-Lumpkin Co., Inc., individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, Appellants, v. The CITY OF PHENIX CITY, ALABAMA, Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

George Walton Walker, III, Page Scrantom Sprouse Tucker & Ford, PC, COLUMBUS, GA, George Walton Walker, III, The Finley Firm, PC, AUBURN, AL, J. Benjamin Finley, Attorney, Robert Walker Garrett, Travis Carlisle Hargrove, The Finley Firm, PC, COLUMBUS, GA, for Plaintiffs - Appellants.

Glenn Channing Gamble, James Robert McKoon, Jr., McKoon & Gamble, PHENIX CITY, AL, James P. Graham, Jr., The Graham Legal Firm, PHENIX CITY, AL, for Defendant - Appellee PHENIX CITY, ALABAMA.

Huey Thomas Wells, Jr., Stewart James Alvis, Kacey Leigh Weddle, Maynard Cooper & Gale, PC, BIRMINGHAM, AL, for Defendant - Appellee REDFLEX TRAFFIC SYSTEMS, INC.

Before TJOFLAT and NEWSOM, Circuit Judges, and ANTOON,* District Judge.

ANTOON, District Judge:

Appellants Thomas F. Worthy, James D. Adams, and Willcox-Lumpkin Co., Inc. each received citations for running red lights in Phenix City, Alabama. A red-light camera—installed and operated pursuant to Alabama statute and Phenix City ordinance—captured their alleged violations. The same state and local provisions that governed the installation and operation of the red-light cameras also created a two-part process for citation recipients to challenge their citations. But Appellants did not fully utilize the procedures provided for challenging citations, nor did they pay their fines. Instead, they filed this lawsuit in federal court challenging the ordinance under the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Alabama.

The district court dismissed the case after determining that Appellants lacked standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution. While we disagree in part with that determination, we conclude that dismissal of Appellants’ federal claims was warranted because the complaint failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Appellants allege that the ordinance imposed a criminal penalty without providing constitutionally sufficient procedural safeguards. But the ordinance imposed a civil penalty, and thus the procedures prescribed by the ordinance are constitutionally sufficient. Because we conclude that Appellants have not stated any federal claims, we decline to consider their state law claims.

I. Background
a. Phenix City’s Red-Light Camera Regime

In October 2012, after authorization from the Alabama legislature, Phenix City adopted Ordinance Number 2012-21, which permitted the installation and operation of cameras to enforce traffic-control-device violations at certain intersections in Phenix City. Phenix City contracted with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc.—a private company specializing in red-light camera installation and operation throughout the United States—to install and operate the cameras.

The ordinance establishes a straightforward enforcement scheme. When a motorist runs a red light at one of the covered intersections in Phenix City, a camera captures a video of the vehicle and photographs the red light and the vehicle’s license plate. A Redflex employee reviews the video and photographic evidence of the potential violations and sends the information to a Phenix City police officer, who has full discretion to issue a citation. If the police officer decides to issue a citation, he signs a notice and directs Redflex to mail it to the registered owner of the vehicle. The ordinance requires that the notice include: (1) the details of the violation; (2) an image of the violation; and (3) instructions on how the citation recipient should respond to the citation, including information on how to contest the citation. Subject to a few affirmative defenses, a motorist who receives a notice of violation is liable for a $100.00 civil penalty. These civil penalties, which Phenix City contends are aimed at enhancing public safety, are not reported on the driver’s driving record.

If a citation recipient opts to contest the civil penalty, he must request an administrative hearing in writing. The administrative hearing is held before a non-judicial hearing officer, and Phenix City has the burden of proving the violation by a preponderance of the evidence. Proof may be introduced via affidavit, meaning that the city is not required to produce a live witness to prove its case. If a citation recipient is found liable or fails to appear at the hearing, an additional $25.00 fee is assessed for hearing costs. Citation recipients found liable at the administrative hearing may appeal that finding to the Circuit Court of Russell County, Alabama, upon payment of the standard circuit court filing fee of $279.00. On appeal, the circuit court sits as trier of both law and fact. With the exception of the lower burden of proof, the enabling statute requires that the circuit court "use the procedures that apply to criminal convictions in municipal court." If the citation recipient prevails in circuit court, both the filing fee and the hearing costs are refunded.

b. Appellants’ Red-Light Citations

Each Appellant received a red-light citation from Phenix City. In response to his citation, Worthy requested and attended an administrative hearing. Though the hearing officer found Worthy liable for the violation, Worthy did not pursue an appeal to circuit court because the circuit court filing fee exceeded the cost of the fine. Adams and Willcox did not challenge their citations. Appellants "have been threatened with legal action and some have been pursued through collection efforts in connection with the civil penalties imposed," but they have not paid the civil penalties assessed.

Appellants instead filed this lawsuit. They allege that the Phenix City ordinance violates their federal and state constitutional rights because it imposes penalties without providing constitutionally sufficient processes to challenge those penalties. And they claim that Redflex conspired with Phenix City to profit from the allegedly unconstitutional ordinance. Phenix City and Redflex moved to dismiss the case, arguing that Appellants lacked constitutional standing to sue and that even if they had standing, they failed to state a viable claim for relief.

The district court agreed that Appellants lacked standing to challenge the procedures provided in the ordinance "because they cannot trace any injury to a process which they failed to utilize." Concluding that all of Appellants’ claims related to the ordinance’s appeal procedures, the district court dismissed all of Appellants’ claims without addressing whether the complaint stated any viable claims for relief.

II. Standing
a. Standard of Review

A dismissal for lack of standing is akin to a dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). See Morast v. Lance , 807 F.2d 926, 932 n.6 (11th Cir. 1987). Thus, we review the district court’s decision to dismiss the case for lack of standing de novo . See McElmurray v. Consol. Gov’t of Augusta–Richmond Cty. , 501 F.3d 1244, 1250 (11th Cir. 2007).

b. Discussion

To bring suit in federal court, a party must have constitutional standing, which is "an essential and unchanging part of the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III." Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife , 504 U.S. 555, 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992). The elements that form the "irreducible constitutional minimum of standing" are well-known: (1) "the plaintiff must have suffered an injury in fact—an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical"; (2) "there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of—the injury has to be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court"; and (3) "it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision." Id . at 560–61, 112 S.Ct. 2130 (alterations omitted) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing these elements." Id. at 561, 112 S.Ct. 2130.

Because these requirements are not "mere pleading requirements but rather an indispensable part of the plaintiff’s case, each element must be supported in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e. , with the manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of the litigation." Id. Here, the standing challenge occurred at the motion-to-dismiss stage, meaning that "it may be sufficient to provide ‘general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant’s conduct.’ " Bochese v. Town of Ponce Inlet , 405 F.3d 964, 975 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fla. Pub. Interest Research Grp. Citizen Lobby, Inc. v. EPA , 386 F.3d 1070, 1083 (11th Cir. 2004) ).

The parties agree that Appellants suffered an injury when they received the civil penalties for their red-light violations. And there can be no doubt that the relief Appellants seek—an order declaring the ordinance unconstitutional, awarding Appellants damages, and enjoining further use of red-light cameras in Phenix City—would redress their injuries. The question of causation, however, proves more vexing. This complication stems from Appellants’ failure to fully utilize the allegedly unconstitutional procedures provided in the ordinance.

Whether an injury is causally connected to the alleged injury-causing government conduct turns on whether "the line of causation between the illegal conduct and injury [is] too attenuated." Allen v. Wright , 468 U.S. 737, 752, 104 S.Ct. 3315,...

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