Photographic Enforcement of Traffic Light Violations Survive State Constitutional Challenges

Glass v. City of Montgomery, [Ms. 1200240, Feb. 11, 2022] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2022). The Court (Stewart, J.; Sellers, J., concurs; Mendheim and Mitchell, JJ., concur in part and concur in the result; Bolin and Bryan, JJ., concur in the result; Parker, C.J., dissents; Shaw, J., recuses), affirms a judgment of the Montgomery Circuit Court (“the trial court”) upholding the constitutionality of a municipal ordinance and corresponding Local Act 2009-740 authorizing automated photographic enforcement of traffic-light violations in the City of Montgomery. Richard Stephen Glass (“Glass”) claimed that the Act violated Art. VI, §§ 89, 104, and 105, Ala. Const. 1901 (Off. Recomp.).

Section 105 provides: “No special, private, or local law, except a law fixing the time of holding courts, shall be enacted in any case which is provided for by a general law, or when the relief sought can be given by any court of this state; and the courts, and not the legislature, shall judge as to whether the matter of said law is provided for by a general law, and as to whether the relief sought can be given by any court; nor shall the legislature indirectly enact any such special, private, or local law by the partial repeal of a general law.” Ms. *8.

The main opinion emphasizes “the text of § 105 – in particular, the plain meaning of the portion of the text of § 105 that provides that ‘the courts, and not the legislature, shall judge as to whether the matter of said [local] law is provided for by a general law.” Ms. **12-13. The opinion approves language in another recent plurality opinion construing Section 105 concluding that “ ‘how broadly to consider the ‘case’ or ‘matter’ addressed by a general law is necessarily an exercise in judicial prudence that will, in many respects, depend on the facts of the case – chiefly what the local law and general law say.’” Ms. *13, quoting Barnett v. Jones, [Ms. 1190470, May 14, 2021] ___ So. 3d___ (Ala. 2021). A plurality of the Court in the main opinion concludes that the matter addressed in the local law is provided for in the general law

[B]oth the general laws and the Act cover the designation and penalization of identical violations of Alabama’s motor-vehicle and traffic code. This is not a situation in which the general laws create and classify the traffic violation, but are entirely silent with respect to enforcement, and the Act merely addresses that void by providing for a civil penalty. Instead, both the general laws and the Act broadly, and dissimilarly, classify the same violations of Title 32; the general laws provide for enforcement of those violations, and the Act seeks to introduce a distinct, albeit nonexclusive, enforcement scheme.

Ms.* 17.

A plurality of the Court concludes in the main opinion, however, that “the Act passes constitutional muster under the demonstrated local need exception to § 105, and the City’s need to protect the safety of the traveling public is sufficient to permit the Act to survive the § 105 challenge in this case.” Ms. *19. In this regard, the opinion points to legislative findings in Section 2 of the Act reciting that “accident data ‘establishes that vehicles running red lights have been and are a dangerous problem in Montgomery, Alabama,’ and further affirms that automated traffic-camera enforcement is ‘very effective in reducing the number of red light violations and decreasing the number of traffic accidents, deaths, and injuries.’” Ms. *20.

The Court next addresses Glass’s claim that the Act violates Section 89 of the Alabama Constitution which provides “[t]he legislature shall not have power to authorize any municipal corporation to pass any laws inconsistent with the general laws of this state.” A majority of the Court concludes that Section 89 is not violated because “the Ordinance and the Act are not inconsistent with the general laws; rather, the Ordinance and the Act merely and permissibly enlarge upon the general laws.” Ms. *28.

Glass also claimed the Act violated Section 104(14) of the Alabama Constitution which provides “[t]he legislature shall not pass a special, private, or local law in any of the following cases: .... (14) Fixing the punishment of crime ....” A majority of the Court concludes that “the legislature’s clear intent that the sanctions set out in the Act be civil in nature matters in the context of the § 104(14) analysis and indicates that the Act does not impermissibly fix punishment for a crime by assessing a civil penalty for a civil violation. Therefore, we affirm the trial court’s judgment insofar as it concluded that the Act survived the § 104 challenge in this case.” Ms. *34.

Justice Mendheim’s special concurrence rejects the demonstrated local need exception to Section 105 as a judicial gloss unsupported by the text of Section 105. However, he concurred in the result rejecting the Section 105 claim. In his view, Section 105 is not violated because “there is no conflict or overlap between the general laws concerning red-light violations and the local Act and the Ordinance. The local Act and the Ordinance can operate only in instances in which the general laws have not been invoked.” Ms. *47.

Justice Mitchell’s special concurrence agrees with the “text-focused approach that Part B uses to analyze § 105 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901,” but unlike the main opinion, Justice Mitchell concludes that “the local act … does not cover the same ‘case’ or ‘matter’ ‘provided for’ by the statewide motor-vehicle and traffic code.” Ms. *48.

Finally, Chief Justice Parker’s dissent “agree(s) with the main opinion’s conclusion that the Act, on its face, ‘provide[s] for’ the same ‘case’ or ‘matter’ – addresses the same subject – as the general law.” Ms. *57. However, Chief Justice Parker concludes that the City did not discharge its burden to defend the Act based on demonstrated local need because in the findings the City relied upon, “the Legislature did not find a peculiarly local need for red-light cameras in Montgomery. And even if the Legislature’s finding about the danger of running red lights was specific to Montgomery, that finding is answered by commonsense knowledge that it is dangerous throughout the State.” Ms. **71-72.

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