Suit contests speed camera tickets

Limit on I-80 in Girard had changed, citations still given

GIRARD — A class-action lawsuit claims the City of Girard collected invalid fines from traffic camera citations because the speed limit was changed.

The lawsuit claims that although construction on a portion of Interstate 80 in Girard ended on Dec. 7, speed cameras continued to issue tickets based on the reduced 55 mph speed limit until Jan. 7.

Brent Kovacs, Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman, confirmed Monday that the speed limit had legally returned to 65 mph on Dec. 7, but ODOT was unable to change the signs until Jan. 8.

The lawsuit was filed Friday by attorney Marc Dann, of the Dann Law Firm in Cleveland and the former Ohio attorney general from Liberty, on behalf of all who received “notices of violation” for driving on the stretch of I-80 during the period in question.

“Based on the number of phone calls I’ve gotten, it has got to be a lot of tickets,” Dann said. “They could have issued thousands of these tickets to people all over the country. Remember, that is a major east-west thoroughfare for the United States.”

The lawsuit creates two subclasses of representees, those who paid any fees or other charges and those who have not, and it lists as plaintiffs three northeast Ohio residents who paid between $104 and $179 in ticket fees because they did not believe they could successfully contest it.

The lawsuit calls the benefit Girard received from these citations “unconscionable … to retain.”

“They should give the money back that they weren’t entitled to, one. Two, they should compensate our clients for the aggravation and time they spent sorting through this. There also might be statutory damages,” Dann said.

Girard Mayor James Melfi said, “If anybody is interested in appealing … there is a process. We have a hearing officer. You appeal to the hearing officer.

“You have to appeal, and then it goes before the hearing officer. There is no general refund,” he said.

As is standard procedure, the speed limit was reduced while construction crews worked on the road.

Kovacs said, “For the speed limit to be in a lower condition than it normally would, it has to have been warranted, and the warranting conditions in this case are concrete barrier walls, construction equipment, thing like that. All those things were officially off the road on Dec. 7.

“Since the warranting conditions were removed, it automatically goes back to 65 mph,” Kovacs said.

He added ODOT does not communicate to towns and cities when the speed limit changes.

“That’s because they change so frequently,” he said. “In 99 percent of all cases, the ticketing agency will write someone a ticket, and if that person so challenges it, they will then call our project managers and say, ‘Hey, at this date at this time, what was the legal speed limit?'”

Dann said there is another issue they may bring forward as a separate action or as an amendment to the current complaint.

“They’ve already sent (unpaid citations) out to collection agencies. I was stunned when I got that call this morning,” Dann said Monday. “If you try to collect a debt that isn’t owed, that’s a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. So people who have received the collection notices may have claims against the collection agencies.”