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Knutson v. Village of Lakemoor

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 1, 2019

Brian Knutson, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
Village of Lakemoor, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued April 17, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:18-cv-01804 - Marvin E. Aspen, Judge.

          Before Manion, Sykes, and Brennan, Circuit Judges.


         This class action suit challenges the red light camera program of the Village of Lakemoor, Illinois. The plaintiffs received violation notices from Lakemoor that they claim are invalid because the notices lack a proper municipal code citation. They also claim Lakemoor denied them due process by limiting the defenses that can be asserted before a hearing officer to contest a violation. The district court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Describing the plaintiffs' claims requires reading several provisions of Lakemoor's Municipal Code of Ordinances (the "Code") together. First, Chapter 1 of the Code outlines the Code's numbering system: "Each section number of this code shall consist of two component parts separated by a period, the figure before the period referring to the chapter number and the figure after the period referring to the section within the chapter." Lakemoor Mun. Code § 1.01(C).

         Chapter 4l-l/2[1] of the Code covers traffic violations. It incorporates by reference the Illinois Vehicle Code (IVC), and states "[t]he section numbers used in the [IVC] shall be identical to those section numbers in the Lakemoor Vehicle Code. Therefore, an ordinance violation shall be cited as 'Chapter 41-1/2/ followed by the corresponding IVC section number." Id. § 41-1/2.01.

         In 2012, Lakemoor enacted an ordinance titled "AUTOMATED TRAFFIC LAW ENFORCEMENT PROGRAM," and codified it as Section 14 of Chapter 41-1/2. Id. § 41-1/2.14. Section 14 authorizes a system of red light cameras located at certain intersections to detect and record red light violations. Id. It states "[i]t shall be a violation of this section for anyone to operate a vehicle in disregard of a traffic control device or to turn right on a red light where it is posted 'No Turn on Red, '" id. § 41-1/2.14(B), but it also incorporates by reference the IVC's prohibition of the same conduct, id. § 41-1/2.14(C)(1), (C)(4) (citing IVC § 11-306).

         When a red light camera captures a vehicle committing a red light violation, Section 14 requires a written violation notice to be issued to the registered owner of the vehicle. Id. § 41-1/2.14(C)(4). Section 14 lists the information that the notice "shall include/' such as the name and address of the registered owner of the vehicle, the location, date, and time of the violation, and, importantly for this appeal, "[t]he violation charged, with specific reference to that section of the Village of Lakemoor Municipal Code of Ordinances allegedly violated." Id. § 41-1/2.14(C)(4)(c). The violation notice constitutes prima facie evidence of a violation, which can be rebutted by several enumerated defenses. Id. § 41-1/2.14(C)(6). A recipient of a violation notice may request adjudication before a hearing officer, where he may present only the defenses listed in Section 14(C)(6). The list of defenses does not include challenges to the violation notice's compliance with Section 14's requirements. Id.

         In its entirety, Section 14 comprises approximately 42 subsections and sub-subsections and takes up roughly four full pages. At the end of Section 14 is the following parenthetical: "(Ord. 12-O-03, passed 1-26-2012)," referencing the ordinance number as it was passed and its date of passage. Lakemoor's online ordinance compilation includes a cross-reference chart that links Ord. No. 12-O-03 to Section 14.[2]

         Each plaintiff received at least one such notice of violation. Next to the label "Code Violation and Description/' the notices include simply the notation "12-O-03." However, the notices also include photographs of the violation occurrence and state these photographs depict "a violation of a red light signal and/or law pertaining to 'Right Turn on Red.'" The notices further provide a complete list of defenses and grounds for contesting the violation as well as instructions for contesting the violation by mail or in person.

         All but one of the named plaintiffs chose to pay the $100 fine for each violation, [3] and none requested a hearing. They then filed suit in federal court, seeking to certify three classes: (1) all individuals who received a violation notice from Lake-moor, (2) those who paid the fine, and (3) those who have not paid the fine. The plaintiffs alleged Lakemoor deprived them of due process under color of state law and sought declaratory judgment. They argued the violation notices were void ab initio because the notation "12-O-03" does not suffice as a "specific reference to that section of the [Code] allegedly violated." Instead, reading Lakemoor Municipal Code §§ 1.01, 41-1/2.01, and 41-1/2.14(C)(4)(c) together, they contended the violation notices must contain a citation to Chapter 41-1/2 of the Code along with the section number of the IVC dealing with red light violations (IVC § 11-306(c)). Therefore, the plaintiffs asserted the proper citation is "Lakemoor Mun. Code § 41-1/2.11-306(c)." They claimed Lakemoor deprived them of due process by not including a challenge to the notice's validity as an available defense under Section 14(C)(6). In addition to their due process claim, the plaintiffs asserted a state law unjust enrichment claim based on the same allegations.[4]

         The district court held the notices were valid because Section 14 incorporates by reference IVC § 11-306(c) and "12-O-03" is a parallel session law citation to Section 14 that satisfies the "specific reference" requirement. Moreover, the district court held the plaintiffs were not deprived of due process by the limitation of defenses because the defense they sought to ...

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