City of Fort Lauderdale v. Dhar, __ So. 3d __, 2016 WL 743287 (Fla. 2016)
While we do not have red light cameras here in Destin or our neighboring towns, there are red light cameras in Gulf Breeze, Florida so we thought it was a pertinent issue to raise with our clients and potential clients. A recent decision came down from the Florida Supreme Court pertaining to red light cameras.
In the case, plaintiff Dhar was driving a rented car in the City of Fort Lauderdale and was videotaped running a red light. Accordingly, the city sent notice of the violation to the rental company with a $158 fine. The Rental Car Company, Dollar Rent A Car Systems, Inc., responded by sending an affidavit identifying Dhar as the person having control of the vehicle at the time of the violation. Thereafter, Dhar was issued a uniform traffic citation with a $263 penalty. While the notice of violation would not appear on the driver’s record, the traffic citation with the high penalty would. Dhar filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that as a short-term renter of the motor vehicle she was treated unequally because she was not initially issued a notice of citation under Fla. Stat. 316.0083(1)(b)1.a and therefore could not avoid the payment of added court costs by paying the statutory penalty of $158. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss on the basis of the citation violated her equal protection and due process rights. The district court of appeal affirmed, holding the statute (which has since been changed) invalid. The Florida Supreme court affirmed, noting “the unequal statutory treatment of short-term automobile renters bears no rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose. No rational basis justifies treating short-term renters differently than registered owners and lessees where the gravamen of the 32 violation-running a red light and being captured on camera doing so-is the same in each case.”
It is important to note that section 316.0083(1)(d)3. was amended by the Legislature in 2013 to allow all individuals charged with committing a red light camera violation to pay $158 through the issuance of a notice of violation, so now short-term renters of vehicles are not treated any differently than those who own vehicles that are registered here in the state of Florida.
Before it was amended, Section 316.0083, Florida Statutes, also known as the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program, authorized the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, counties, and municipalities to use cameras to enforce violations of sections 316.074(1) and 316.075(1)(c), Florida Statutes, for a driver’s failure to stop at a red light traffic signal. In 2012, when Dhar committed the traffic violation, section 316.0083(1), Florida Statutes, provided in pertinent part:
(d)1. The owner of the motor vehicle involved in the violation is responsible and liable for paying the uniform traffic citation issued for a violation of s. 316.074(1) or s. 316.075(1)(c)1. when the driver failed to stop at a traffic signal, unless the owner can establish that:
. . . .
c. The motor vehicle was, at the time of the violation, in the care, custody, or control of another person;
. . . .
2. In order to establish such facts, the owner of the motor vehicle shall, within 30 days after the date of issuance of the traffic citation, furnish to the appropriate governmental entity an affidavit setting forth detailed information supporting an exemption as provided in this paragraph.
a. An affidavit supporting such exemption under subparagraph 1.c. must include the name, address, date of birth, and, if known, the driver license number of the person who leased, rented, or otherwise had care, custody, or control of the motor vehicle at the time of the alleged violation. . . .
. . . .
3. Upon receipt of an affidavit, the person designated as having care, custody, and control of the motor vehicle at the time of the violation may be issued a traffic citation for a violation of s. 316.074(1) or s. 316.075(1)(c)1. when the driver failed to stop at a traffic signal. The affidavit is admissible in a proceeding pursuant to this section for the purpose of providing proof that the person identified in the affidavit was in actual care, custody, or control of the motor vehicle. The owner of a leased vehicle for which a traffic citation is issued for a violation of s. 316.074(1) or s. 316.075(1)(c)1. when the driver failed to stop at a traffic signal is not responsible for paying the traffic citation and is not required to submit an affidavit as specified in this subsection if the motor vehicle involved in the violation is registered in the name of the lessee of such motor vehicle.
See § 316.0083, Fla. Stat. (2012).
As expected, the Justices found that the operation of the statute was to treat short-term renters differently than long-term lessees. This is because a long-term lessee will be listed in the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles records as a registrant, and that long-term lessee will be sent the initial Notice of Violation calling for payment of only $158. Because short-term renters are not listed there, they are identified only after the registered owner submits an affidavit identifying them. Therefore it violates equal protection and due process for those short-term renters.
It goes to show you that sometimes it is beneficial to pursue and challenge a law that can be construed as unfair and targeting a specific group of people under the guise of trying to protect the greater good of the public under the shield of public safety.
Read the opinion here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2016/sc15-359.pdf