The Latest on One Man's Mission to Overturn a Four-Year Old Speeding Ticket
A Washington man has gone to great lengths to challenge a speeding ticket that he received. After a lengthy litigation process, an appeals court in Washington issued a 30-page opinion denying the man the ability to sue to city, claiming that he lacks standing. In other words, hundreds of hours of the court's time and many thousands of dollars of expenses were devoted to one man's lawsuit over a $234 speeding ticket. The main lesson that can be learned from this case is that if you want to challenge a speeding ticket, do not pay it first. While it seems simple on the surface, it took lengthy legal reasoning to reach that point.
The Appellant Was Challenging a $234 Fine for Driving 28 M.P.H. in a School Zone
What is not in dispute in the lawsuit is the fact that the appellant, a man by the name of Chris Williams, was ticketed in 2016 for driving over the speed limit in an area designated as a school zone. The speed limit in the area was fixed at 20 miles per hour, and the appellant was clocked and 28 and ticketed by a photo enforcement camera. He received a fine of $234 and elected to pay it after initially requesting a hearing. However, two years after he paid the ticket, Williams decided that Spokane was in fact wrong when it sent him the speeding ticket. In order to get his money back, he filed a lawsuit against the city seeking to have his $234 returned to him.
Williams' class action lawsuit centered on the placement of the speed camera. Initially, the City of Spokane established a speed enforcement zone 300 feet from the school. However, when the flashing beacon was installed indicating the start of the speed zone, its placement was set up 385 feet from the school. The appellant claimed that the city illegally extended the school zone 85 feet and, therefore, it had no right to ticket him.
When the defendant filed for summary judgment, the Superior Court denied the motion. Even though the court found that the city was able to place the flashing beacons where they felt it to be best, the court still believed that there were some facts in dispute. Spokane appealed this denial.
The Appellant Should Have Tried to Vacate the Judgment Instead of Suing the City
Four years after Williams' speeding ticket was originally issued, the appeals court dismissed his claims. One of the major issues was that Williams chose the wrong way to bring his lawsuit against the city. Williams filed a lawsuit claiming that the city was unjustly enriched by the amount of his ticket based on an illegal placement of the school zone. However, the court here held that Williams voluntarily paid his ticket. This extinguished his right to sue the city over the incident so long as the judgment was in place. The proper thing for Williams to do would have been to try to vacate the original judgment.
In addition, the court found that Williams did not have the standing to challenge his ticket. He had no open controversy with the city that would allow him to get into court. In addition, what was also missing from his case was a statement of future harm. What would have been needed was a statement that Williams intended to travel in that exact area again and feared receiving an illegal ticket.
Williams was seeking a declaratory judgment from the court that Spokane could no longer issue tickets in this particular school zone. However, before he could seek a declaratory judgment, Williams must first reverse his original ticket penalty by vacating his judgment. Similar rules of standing also apply when someone is seeking a declaratory judgment. In other words, courts will not simply issue declaratory judgments for anyone. You must be facing some sort of imminent harm or have a defined legal interest. A ticket that was already paid four years ago with no further declared intention to travel in the area is not enough to get the court to act in a case.
For now, the saga of the $234 speeding ticket that required years of litigation and tens of thousands of dollars of court costs seems to have been brought to a close. Of course, there is always a chance that Williams may seek to escalate the issue all the way to the Washington Supreme Court.
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