Conspiracy alleged in Girard speed camera case filing

WARREN — A class action lawsuit against Girard and the company that operates speed cameras there, Tennessee-based Blue Line Solutions, alleges they unjustly cited motorists for speeding along a stretch of Interstate 80.

Motorists traveling the road through Girard between Dec. 7, 2017, and Jan. 6 were erroneously ticketed because, according to the lawsuit, the speed limit, which was lowered to 55 mph during a period of construction, should have been raised back to 65 mph when the construction ended Dec. 7, 2017.

“At that time the legal speed limit on the highway became 65 miles per hour,” said Cleveland attorney and former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, one of several attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “But for the next month, the city and Blue Line continued to cite people for speeding through a construction that no longer existed. We believe more than 7,000 tickets were issued in error during that time.”

A similar suit filed in April in federal court in Youngstown was voluntarily dismissed at the request of the plaintiffs on Thursday.

The suit resurfaced in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court on Monday, but with Blue Line Solutions as a second defendant. Blue Line Solutions owns the traffic cameras Girard police use to ticket drivers. In return for leasing the equipment, the company takes 40 percent of the money collected by those ticketed.

“In a malicious combination, Blue Line and the City of Girard engaged in a civil conspiracy to cause injury to plaintiffs and class members, by engaging in a common scheme to generate revenue through the systematic issuance of the unlawful citations,” the suit states.

A spokesman with the Ohio Department of Transportation said the speed limit had legally returned to 65 mph on Dec. 7, 2017. ODOT does not notify communities of speed limit changes, but when construction materials leave the site, the speed limit goes back to normal.

The suit also claims Girard was aware that the speed limit had changed from 55 mph back to 65 mph because some of the citations written in that time frame, in the same place, indicated it was not a construction zone.

Messages seeking comment were left with Blue Line Solutions and the law firm that represented Girard in the federal lawsuit, Sutter O’Connell Attorneys.

Previously, Girard Mayor James Melfi said the city wasn’t aware of the speed limit change until Jan. 7.

The latest lawsuit has three new defendants, making the total six. It asks, in part, for the court to invalidate all citations given to the plaintiffs between Dec. 7, 2017, and Jan. 7, 2018, return all fines to the plaintiffs and award them $500 to $5,000 in damages.

The suit claims the plaintiffs lost their rights to due process, the city and Blue Line Solutions violated the Ohio Consumer Sales Protection Act with unfair and deceptive practices and the city acted with negligent misrepresentation by issuing the tickets though the speed limit was reduced.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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