Appeals court rules in favor of Willis in traffic camera suit

By Shanice Harris | Jul 24, 2017

WILLIS – The Court of Appeals for the 9th District of Texas at Appeals at Beaumont has reversed an order and rendered judgment in favor of the city of Willis in a lawsuit regarding its use of red light cameras.

The city of Willis and its Mayor Leonard Reed, Police Chief James Nowak and City Manager Hector Forestier had filed for a reversal of the decision of an order denying a plea to the jurisdiction, accusing the trial court of error in denying their plea.

The appellants argued that Luis Garcia failed to exhaust administrative remedies during the trial and that the plaintiff’s claims are barred from the court by governmental immunity.

The original lawsuit was filed in January 2016 by Garcia on his behalf and others who have paid a civil penalty for violating the Red Light Camera Ordinance. The law, which was passed into legislation in 2009, authorized a photographic traffic signal enforcement system in Willis. Garcia soon filed a first amended original petition on behalf of those who have paid a penalty for violating the ordinance. Garcia was seeking injunctive relief, a refund of paid penalties, damages, attorney’s fees and others.

Garcia argued that the ordinance is in violation of the constitution. He also claimed that, “the plaintiffs allege that the city failed to meet the requirements of the city’s Red-Light Camera Ordinance and Chapter 707 of the Texas Transportation Code because the city allegedly failed to conduct a traffic engineering study as required before installing the cameras,” according to Garcia’s lawsuit.

The city of Willis thought filed an answer and asserted a denial of all claims. It argued that the plaintiff’s claims are barred by governmental immunity and that the municipal court has exclusivity to the jurisdiction.

The court denied the city’s pleas to the jurisdiction and their appeal. The appellants quickly moved for an appeal. They argued that the trial court erred in denying their plea and that Garcia pleaded causes of action that demonstrated the court’s lack of jurisdiction, along with the lack of evidence presented.

The appeals court ruled that it agreed with the trial court that the city has authorization to establish a red-light camera enforcement system. 

The court states, “Having sustained the appellants’ sole issue on appeal and having concluded that the trial court erred in failing to grant the plea to the jurisdiction because the plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, we reverse and render judgment for the defendants.”

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