5th Cir. Gets Technical in a Case Challenging TX Ticket Cameras

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on May 16, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fifth Circuit rejected a traffic violation camera companies' attempts to drag a challenge to their validity into a federal court. The circuit court held that the more proper venue was Texas' court system.

In a wonderfully technical case that would be fit for discussion in any advanced civil procedure course, the court details rather entertainingly just how it came to its decision.

Background and Procedure

The plaintiff in this case was not even in the state at the time when his car was photographed violating traffic laws in Texas. Plaintiff paid the fines and brought suit against all 53 counties in Texas as well as the companies whose cameras are used throughout the state: ATX, Redflex, and Xerox. The plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of the laws and alleged violations of RICO (yes, RICO).

None of the companies involved in the suit were headquartered in Texas. They removed the case to federal court based on federal question (RICO) and asserted CAFA, the federal act giving federal courts 'original jurisdiction' to those controversies where the AIC is at least $5 million, with a minimum of 100 plaintiffs, and where the parties are minimally diverse. The parties did not dispute to those conditions being met.

Deleting RICO

Then the plaintiff complicated matters by trying to amend his complaint to delete the RICO claim, thereby attempting to remand the case back to state court. The companies objected and claimed that since they were the primary defendants of the claim, the case should remain in federal court on diversity grounds.

Circuit Sides With Plaintiff

But the court would eventually side with the plaintiff, but not for the "local controversy exception" rule he cited. Rather, it was determined that proper primary defendants of the class suit should have been the dismissed municipalities. After all, it was they who put the laws into action to ticket the owners of the vehicles. Since the municipalities were the proper defendants, the proper courtroom was a Texas courtroom, not a federal one.

The court emphasized that its decision to force a Texas courtroom was a technical decision and not based on the merits of the arguments at all. Still, it's a recommended read for any potential future attorney who is considering federal motion practice work.

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