Use of Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) Systems Survives Series of Constitutional Challenges

Posted on: October 5th, 2018

On August 31, 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court issued three (3) related opinions regarding the use and enforcement of ATE systems in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. These cases follow the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in April in City of Des Moines et al. v. Iowa Dep’t of Transportation in which the Iowa Supreme Court found that the IDOT did not have legislative authority to outlaw the use of ATE systems. See City of Des Moines et al. v. Iowa Dep’t of Transportation et al., Case No. 17–0686 (Iowa 2018).

In these three cases, several individuals who were cited for traffic violations via ATE systems in place in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines brought lawsuits against their respective cities (as well as Gatso USA, Inc., the company operating the ATE systems). The plaintiff levied several challenges to the use of ATE systems under the Iowa Constitution, including:

Substantive Due Process. The fundamental question the Iowa Supreme Court considered with respect to Plaintiff’s equal protection, privileges and immunities clause, and substantive due process claims is whether the ATE system infringed on a fundamental right to intrastate travel. While the right to interstate travel has been well established, the Iowa Supreme Court found there was no similar fundamental right to intrastate travel, meaning travel within the State of Iowa. Accordingly, since the ATE systems did not affect a fundamental right, the Iowa Supreme Court applied the rational basis test (public safety) and determined that the cities had a rational basis in implementing these systems.

Equal Protection. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the fact that the Cedar Rapids ATE systems could not cite government-owned vehicles and semi-trailer trucks violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. Cedar Rapids and Des Moines both used “back plate” systems that could only read the back license plates of vehicles – hence, excluding government-owned vehicles and semis. The City of Cedar Rapids contended that implementing front and back plate systems (which could cite government-owned vehicles and semis) would not be cost effective. The question considered by the Iowa Supreme Court was whether no reasonable fact-finder could conclude that the City’s purported cost justification was not “realistically conceivable” and had no “basis in fact.” The Court found that the respective cities’ cost justifications were realistically conceivable and had a basis in fact, and rejected the Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenges.

Behm et al. v. City of Cedar Rapids et al., Case NO. 16–1031 (August 31, 2018)

Weizberg et al. v. City of Des Moines et al., Case No. 17–1489 (August 31, 2018)

City of Cedar Rapids v. Leaf, Case No. 16 – 0435 (August 31, 2018)

Read more news articles »