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Suit claims city’s ‘unconstitutional’ red-light tickets aren’t valid

A sign warns motorists of the presence of a red light camera in Chicago in 2015. | M. Spencer Green/AP file photo

A group of men filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Chicago alleging that red-light camera tickets issued in the city aren’t valid because they don’t fulfill requirements laid out in a state law.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, seeks an injunction preventing the city from collecting on and enforcing any red-light camera violation notices, which the filing claims are “unconstitutional” and “unlawful.”

The city’s municipal code includes language outlined in the Illinois Vehicle Code that requires red-light camera tickets to include certain information, like the vehicle owner’s name and address and the violation charges, among other things.

However, the suit alleges, the city’s notifications don’t include some of the required information. Violation notifications are supposed to include a statement noting that recorded images are evidence of a violation, and that failing to respond to the ticket — by paying a civil penalty, completing a traffic education program or contesting the violation in a timely manner — is an admission of liability that could lead to the vehicle owner’s license being suspended.

But city red-light tickets don’t acknowledge that the provided images are evidence of a violation, according to the suit. Additionally, the notifications don’t explicitly warn that drivers would admit liability and could potentially lose their privileges if they fail to respond by paying a fine, taking a traffic class or challenging the ticket.

According to the suit, the city has issued more than 2 million red-light camera tickets in the past five years. The fine for each violation is $100, plus an additional $100 for late payment.

The six-count lawsuit accuses the city of unjust enrichment and seeks a declaration acknowledging that Chicago’s red-light camera violation notices don’t comply with city or state law. The suit also seeks to halt any collections that don’t comply with those laws, recover all fines that were “unconstitutionally” and “unlawfully” collected, strike previous red-light camera violations from the official record and expunge the credit records of people with late or unpaid fees.

The group of men named in the suit — who were all issued red-light tickets between 2015 and this year — are seeking an unnamed amount in fees and damages.

Last year, the City Council approved a nearly $40 million settlement to 389,187 drivers who were denied due process after being issued red-light and speed-camera tickets. Another 78,638 motorists who never paid their fines also had a portion of their debt forgiven.

The city’s Law Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.