Last June, an Overland Park, Kansas man, got a surprise in the mail. Andrew Marso, a local journalist, opened an envelope sent by the village of North Riverside containing a $100 citation for a red-light violation at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road.
It stunned him, to put it mildly.
“Bad govt thread,” Marso posted to his Twitter account on June 28, 2019. “Couple weeks ago I received this $100 ticket in the mail for running a red light in North Riverside, Ill. (a suburb of Chicago). Only problem: it’s not my truck, I’ve never been associated with that license and I’ve never been to North Riverside.”
Now, Marso is at the center of a federal class-action lawsuit that seeks unspecified monetary damages from the village of North Riverside and its red-light camera vendor, SafeSpeed LLC.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas last October, but North Riverside hadn’t been named as a defendant until Jan. 10 when Marso’s attorney, Scott Nehrbass, filed an amended complaint, looping in the village.
The lawsuit argues there could be “thousands” of others, in Kansas and elsewhere, who may have been issued bogus red-light tickets by municipalities using SafeSpeed due to SafeSpeed’s alleged negligence in not properly verifying license plate information.
In Marso’s case, the license plate of the offending vehicle – a truck hauling a shipment of cars – somehow matched to the number on a handicapped-parking placard issued by the state of Kansas to Marso, who lost parts of his hands and feet after contracting bacterial meningitis in 2004, according to the lawsuit.
While the North Riverside Police Department ended up voiding the red-light ticket after being contacted by Marso, the lawsuit seeks to stop bogus citations being mailed to others whose handicapped-parking placards might be cross-referenced with license plate numbers.
“Unless SafeSpeed is required to stop sending notices of violations based on disability identification placard numbers, numerous individuals with disabilities across the state of Kansas and the rest of the United States are threatened with irreparable harm in the form of wrongful criminal citations, impaired driving records and other harm,” the lawsuit states.
In a phone interview last week, Nehrbass said, “Yes, we are aware of others” who have received bogus red-light camera citations.
“If North Riverside is looking out for its citizens and delegating law-enforcement activities to SafeSpeed, you should sure do it right,” Nehrbass said. “The injustice of this is readily apparent to any thinking human being.”
The four-count lawsuit states that both SafeSpeed and the village violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging that they “discriminated against individuals with disabilities by failing to ensure that individuals with disabilities were not wrongfully ticketed.”
In addition, the lawsuit accuses both North Riverside and SafeSpeed with negligence and malicious prosecution.
For its part, SafeSpeed has filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying that it pulls non-Illinois vehicle registration information from a database called Nlets, not from a database of its own, and that the company is immune from prosecution, because the village is responsible for issuing the actual notice of violation.
“They can point at each other all they want, but it’s not my client’s fault,” Nehrbass said. “He’s being falsely accused of a crime. That’s not right.”
SafeSpeed also argues that because Marso’s ticket was dismissed he suffered no harm, that Kansas is not the proper jurisdiction for the complaint. That motion to dismiss was declared moot in light of the amended complaint being filed on Jan. 10. The judge overseeing the case has given SafeSpeed until Feb. 21 to file a response to the amended complaint.
The Landmark did not get a response to email inquiry sent to SafeSpeed’s attorney seeking comment. North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. acknowledged that the village recently was served with notice of the village being named as a defendant.
The village’s answer to the complaint is due by Feb. 10.