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COURT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Emelike U. Agomo, 1644
6th Street, N.W., District of Columbia 20001
Auto Ward, Inc., 129
Q Street, N.W., District of Columbia 20001, plaintiffs
Anthony A. Williams, Mayor (in his official capacity), District
of Columbia Government, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., District of
Columbia 20004, defendant
Civil action 02-6520
Judge Melvin Wright
COMPLAINT CHARGING CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
This action charges the
District of Columbia with violating fifth amendment due process as
established in the U.S. Constitution. The action arises from the
unconstitutional use of the Automated
Traffic Enforcement System ("ATES") as a purported means of
enforcing District of
Columbia traffic regulations and statutes. By means of this lawsuit under 42
U.S.C., section 1983, the named plaintiffs
civil rights as well as the fifth amendment
rights of others prosecuted by ATES since July 31, 1999.
Class Action Against Municipal Government
1. According to the mandate established in the D.C. Coda,
section 11-921(a)(S), this court has jurisdiction to hear this matter.
2. The incidents
described in this complaint took place in the District of Columbia.
3.(a) Emelike Agomo and Auto Ward, Inc., the named plaintiffs, as owners
of automobiles, received notices
of infractions, directly or indirectly, by mail from the District of
Columbia ATES for alleged
traffic violations. The District of Columbia charged these named
plaintiffs with "speeding" in violation of the D.C. Code,
section 502201.04, and 18 DCMR 2200 or with disobeying a "steady
yellow signal" or a "steady red signal" in violation of the
D.C. Code, section 50-2201.03(a)(1), and 18 DCMR 2103.5 and 2103.7.
(b) The District of
Columbia charged Emelike Agomo's automobile with speeding on about November
10, November 14, November 21, December 12, December 22, and December 29,
2001, and January 9, January 19, February 9, February 16, and March 13,
2002, and on perhaps other occasions. on about July 17 or
August 30, 2002, the defendant found Mr. Agomo liable on the notices of
infractions for speeding on December 22, 2001, January 9, February 16,
and March 13,
2002. The defendant still prosecutes the notices of infraction for
speeding on December 12 and 29, 2001, and may well be prosecuting the
notices for January 19 and February 9, 2002. Meanwhile, the defendant
appears to be prosecuting the notices of infraction for speeding on
November 10, 14, and 21, 2001, although the District of Columbia claims to
have dismissed what it regards as identical notices for speeding on
October 10, 14, and 21, 2001. When adjudicating these cases, the defendant
found Mr. Agomo liable on the December 22, 2001, the January 9, the
February 16, and the March 13,
2002, notices of infraction on the basis of Mr. Agomo's ownership of the
vehicle in question.
(c) As for Auto Ward,
Inc., a fleet operator which leases (or otherwise transfers custody of)
hundreds of taxicabs to local drivers, the District of Columbia charged
this plaintiff with at least fifty-seven different notices of infraction,
both for speeding and for yellow-red light violations that allegedly took
place from February 23, 2000, through October 23, 2002. As part of this
ongoing pattern, the defendant has found Auto Ward, Inc., liable on some or all of
the fifty-seven notices of infraction referred to in this paragraph. When
the District of Columbia adjudicated these cases, it found Auto Ward,
Inc., liable on some or all
the notices of infraction on the basis of the company's ownership of the
vehicles in question, and the defendant adjudicated these notices of
infractions without providing notice and an opportunity to be heard on the
(d) According to the
ATES notices of infractions, these alleged traffic violations took place
on highways, roads, or streets in the District of Columbia and, hence,
provided for the civil liability assessed against the named plaintiffs. .
4. Mayor Anthony A.
Williams serves as chief executive officer of the District of Columbia
municipality, and the named plaintiffs sue Mayor Williams in
his official capacity
for civil rights violations committed under color of law by the District
of Columbia with its ATES. With
authority from the D.C. Code, section 50-2209.03, the mayor employs
Affiliated Computer Services, Inc., a
private contractor, for the administration of much of the ATES operations.
Since about 1997 or 1998 when the municipality initiated ATES, the
District of Columbia has prosecuted thousands of individual drivers on
more than 500,000 ATES of infractions in violation of fifth amendment due
5. The named plaintiffs intend to represent the class of automobile owners
prosecuted by ATES since July 31, 1999. As required by rule 23(a) of
the Superior Court Rules of Civil procedure, the class of
automobile owners prosecuted by
July 31, 1999, would be so numerous that joinder of all class members
would be impracticable. Also, as required by rule 23(a), questions
of law or fact are common to the class, and the claims asserted by the
representative plaintiffs would be the same as the claims typically
available to the class. Moreover, as required by rule 23(a), the
representative plaintiffs would fairly and adequately protect the
interests of the class.
6. In addition, rule
23(b)(1)(8) permits class certification because the prosecution of
separate actions by individual class members would create the risk of
adjudications which as a practical matter would be dispositive of the
interests of other class members not bringing this lawsuit. Also, rule
23(b)(2) permits class certification because the District of Columbia
has acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class
of automobile owners
prosecuted by ATES. As a result, final injunctive relief and corresponding
declaratory relief for the entire class would be appropriate.
7. The plaintiffs
estimate that more than 100,000 different automobile owners make up the
class that the named plaintiffs seek to represent.
B. The named
plaintiffs would be adequate representatives of the class because they
have no conflict of interests, either among themselves or with the class
as a whole. Indeed, the named plaintiffs simply received ATES notices of
infractions that, on an individual basis, exposed each plaintiff to a
possible civil fine of at least $50.00 for each infraction. Each member of
the class faces or faced this same potential for liability. Also, each
member of the class, including the named plaintiffs, faced the prospect of
suspension of his or her driver's license or of his or her motor vehicle
registration tags if he or she failed to pay the civil fine imposed by
9. The named
plaintiffs would be adequate representatives of the class because they
have no conflict of interests, either among themselves or with the class
as a whole. Indeed, each named plaintiff faces, or faced, potential civil
fines of from $50.00 in the aggregate to $6,675.00 in the aggregate for
all ATES infractions
referred to in
this complaint. That is to say, Eric Mercer, at one extreme, faced a
potential civil fine of $50.00 for the cited ATES infraction. Meanwhile,
at the other extreme, Emelike
potential civil fines totaling $1,550.00 on the basis of about seventeen
alleged ATES infractions while Auto Ward, Inc., faces potential liability
of $6,675.00 on the
against that company. This small disparity in aggregate liability, from
one named plaintiff to another, does not create a conflict of interests
among either the named plaintiffs or the class members. To be sure, the
named plaintiffs seek merely to protect their fifth amendment due
and those same rights in other class members. In a word, the named
plaintiffs seek an injunction against further ATES operations,
and these plaintiffs also seek reimbursement to class members of fines
collected by ATES. The
relief sought by the named plaintiffs fundamentally precludes them from
asserting in this lawsuit interests in conflict with other class members.
Action Against ATES Under 42 U.S.C.,
10. Solely for purposes
of this lawsuit, the plaintiffs stipulate to the following: (a) that the ATES
to identify the owners of the automobiles involved in each
alleged infraction; (b) that the ATES accurately
described the movement of the automobile in each alleged infraction; (c)
that the ATES accurately
stated the date and the time of each alleged infraction; (d) that the ATES
accurately described the location of
each alleged infraction; (e) that the ATES accurately
described the license plate of the automobile charged in each infraction
notice; and (f) that the ATES provided in
each of its infraction notices an accurate "copy of the photo or
digitized image of the violation".
Presumption of Guilt Violates Due Process Rights of Plaintiffs
Registered Automobile Owners is the Class
11. Since about April
1997, the District of Columbia has had the following ATES policy as
established by the D.C. Code, section 50-2209.02:
(a) The owner of a
vehicle issued a notice of infraction (by ATES) shall be liable for
payment of the fine assessed for the infraction, unless the owner can
furnish evidence that the vehicle was, at the time of the infraction, in
the custody, care, or control of another person. In the event that the
registered owner claims that the vehicle was in the custody, care, or
control of another person, the registered owner of the vehicle shall
provide evidence in a sworn affidavit, under penalty of perjury, setting
forth the name and address of the person who leased, rented, or otherwise
had care, custody, or control of the vehicle.
(b) When a violation is detected
by an automated
traffic enforcement system, the Mayor shall mail a summons and a notice of
infraction to the name and address of the
registered owner of the vehicle on file with the Bureau of Motor Vehicle
Services or the appropriate state motor vehicle agency. The notice shall
include the date, time, and location of the violation, the type of
violation detected, the license plate number, and state of issuance of the
vehicle detected, and a copy of the photo or digitized image of the
(d) The owner or operator of a vehicle shall not be
presumed liable for violations in the vehicle recorded by an automated
traffic enforcement system ... when the vehicle or tags have been reported
stolen prior to the citation. . . .
Code, section 50-2209.02(a), (b),
12. Pursuant to the D.C. Coda, :action 50-2209.02 (a) and (b), the
District of Columbia issued ATES infraction
notices to each member of the class. The front page of ATES infraction
notices informed each class member as follows:
Your vehicle was
photographed violating District of Columbia Traffic Regulations on the
date and time listed below. Under District law, the registered owner of a
vehicle is liable for payment of the fine for violations recorded using an
automated traffic enforcement system, unless the vehicle was not in the
custody of the owner at the time of the infraction. POINTS WILL NOT BE
ASSESSED AGAINST THE REGISTERED OWNER OR THE
DESIGNATED DRIVER FOR THIS VIOLATION. On the back of this notice you will
find detailed information regarding payment, ticket adjudication, and
assignment of responsibility.
of Columbia ATES Moving Violation Notice of Infraction. p. 1.
13. Pursuant to
the D.C. Code, section 50-2209.02 (a) and (b), the back page of
ATES infraction notices informed each class
member as follows:
You may either
indicate the name and address of the driver [responsible for the alleged ATES
or have the driver complete the form with their full name and address and answer the ticket as
instructed. You must identify the full name and address of the person who leased, rented, or otherwise had
care, or control of your vehicle in the
space provided below within 30 calendar days of the mail date of this citation. Otherwise, as
registered owner, you or your company will be liable for this citation. A false representation of this
information may subject you to criminal penalties. This form must be notarized
before it is returned. You should not sign it until you are in the presence
of the notary. The notary will require proof of identity at the time of notarization. Return the completed
form to Automated Traffic Enforcement, P.O. Box 37075, Washington, D.C. 20013.
Columbia ATES Moving Violation Notice of Infraction, p.2.
This District of Columbia policy imposed on
each relevant class member the burden of proving an essential element
of a speeding violation under the D.C. Coda, section 50-2201.04, and 18
DCMR 2200. According to the D.C. Code, section 50-2201.04(d), an
essential element of a speeding offense is the identity of the
"individual violating" the law.
(b) Similarly, District of Colombia policy imposed on each relevant class
member the burden of proving an essential element of passing a steady
yellow or red signal in violation of the D.C. Coda,
section 50-2201.03(a)(1), and 18 DCMR 2103.5 and 2103.7. According to 18 DCMR
essential element of a red or yellow signal offense is the identity of
"drivers of vehicles" disobeying the traffic signals.
(c) The District of Columbia policy mandated by the D.C. Coda., section
50-2209.02 (a)-(b) and (d) established a presumption of liability (or
of guilt) against plaintiffs and other class members, albeit while this
presumption of liability exceeded the scope of the prima facie limits
established in 18 DCMR 1035 and 3012.6.
15. As required by the policy, the ATES infraction notice obliged each
class member to prove the identity of the person violating the traffic
laws. Otherwise, according to the policy, the District of Columbia
presumed a class
member, as owner of his or her automobile, to be liable for
violating the speeding or the traffic signal laws.
16. With regard to ATES infraction notices, the District of Columbia never
assumed the burden of proving who violated the
speeding laws in the D.C. Cods, section 50-2201.04, and 18 DCMR 2200. Also,
with regard to ATES infraction notices, the District of Columbia never
assumed the burden of proving who violated the traffic signal laws in the D.C.
Code, section 502201.03(a)(1), and 18 DCMR
2103.5 and 2103.7.
17. Under ATES policy, the District of Columbia never offered
any proof whatever about the identity of drivers responsible for
"moving violations" charged in ATES infraction
notices under the D.C. Cods, section 50-2209.01.
18. However, fifth amendment due process as interpreted in Thomas
v. D.C. Board of Appeals, 355 A.2d 789, 793 (D.C. 1976), and in Hell
v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535, 541-42, 91 S.Ct. 1586, 1591, 29 L.Ed.2d 90,
96 (1971), as well as District of Columbia law, imposes the burden of
proof for ATES infractions
on the District of Columbia, not on automobile owners. See
D.C. Code, section 50-2302.06(a) (interpreting due
process with the mandate that "the burden of proof shall be on the
District and no infraction shall be established except by clear and convincing
evidence"); see also D.C. Code, section 2-509(b) ("In contested
cases, except as may otherwise be provided by law, ... the proponent of a
rule or order shall have the burden of proof"); see also 18
DCMR 3012.1 and 3012.2 (a).
2: Compensation Arrangement for Automated Computer Systems, Inc.,
19. Count two
incorporates by reference paragraphs (1) through (18).
Due Process Rights of Plaintiffs
Class of Registered Automobile Owners
20. Since July 31, 1999, the defendant employed a private contractor, Automated
Computer Systems, Inc., for much of the adjudication in ATES cases. Automated
Computer, as a corporate entity and through its
employees, examines and, on a substantial basis, adjudges the validity and
the content of notices of infractions issued by the defendant's ATES system. The
plaintiffs make this allegation on the basis of reasonable sources of
information and belief.
21. However, from July 31, 1999, through about April 24, 2002, the
defendant paid Automated Computer Systems, Inc., about forty
percent of the money collected in fines from ATES prosecutions. After
April 24, 2002, the defendant paid Automated Computer Systems, Inc., a monthly
flat fee nearly equal to monthly fees paid before April 25, 2002, under the
original percentage-of-receipts formula. The plaintiffs make this
allegation on the basis of reasonable sources of information and belief.
22. The compensation scheme used by the District of Columbia to pay
Automated Computer Systems, Inc., for its role in adjudicating ATES
prosecutions renders the defendant's adjudicative process, and Automated
Systems' role in that process, impermissibly partial towards a verdict
against automobile owners. Accordingly, this compensation scheme and the
ATES regime that employs it violates fifth amendment due process. Tumey
v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510, 523, 532-34 (1927) (judge's compensation based
on percentage of fines in traffic cases violated due process); Connally
v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 245, 250-51 (1977) (per curium) (judge's compensation based on number of search warrants
issued violated impartiality requirement of due process); see Aetna
Life Insurance Co. v. Lavoie, 475 U.S. 813, 820-25 (1986) (judge
disqualified under due process because his personal lawsuit raised same
issue as that in case before him); see also Ward v. Monroeville, 409
U.S. 57 (1972)
(mayor as municipality's chief executive barred by due process from
adjudicating traffic tickets prosecuted by municipality).
under Fifth Amendment Due Process
23. This portion of the
complaint incorporates by reference paragraphs (1) through (22).
24. 42 U.S.C., section 1993, protects the fifth amendment due
process rights of each member of the class.
including its notices of infractions and the adjudicative role of Automated
Inc., violated the fifth amendment due process rights of each class
26. The fifth amendment due process violations described in this complaint
resulted in the following injuries to the named plaintiffs.
(a) Emelike Agomo faces liability of about $2,300.00 despite his
his due process rights. Also, the defendant has or will suspend Mr.
Agomo's right to operate his or any other automobile in the District of
Columbia. Moreover, the defendant has or will bar the District of Columbia
vehicle registration of automobiles owned by Mr. Agomo.
(b) Auto Ward, Inc., faces liability of about $6,675.00 despite its
assertion of its due process rights. Also, the defendant has or will
suspend the District of Columbia vehicle registration for the automobiles
owned by Auto Ward, Inc.
This action will bar the lawful use of these automobiles in the District
2?. Identical fifth amendment due process violations caused similar
injuries to each class member.
WHEREFORE, the named plaintiffs asks this court for the following relief:
(a) a declaratory judgment against Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the
District of Columbia ATES;
permanent injunction barring the operation of the ATES;
(c) a judgment ordering the District of Columbia to reimburse each class
member with payment in full of all ATES fines collected by the defendant
and the District of Columbia;
(d) an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs; and
(e) other appropriate relief.
The plaintiffs demand a trial by jury on the issues of fact raised in
Thomas Ruffin, Jr. #370817
RUFFIN LEGAL SERVICES
153 Galveston Place, S.W.
District of Columbia 20032
Horace L. Bradshaw, Jr. #446575
Attorney at law
1.644 6th St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
Ruffin,. Jr., certify that, on December 12, 2002,
I delivered a copy of this amended
complaint to the office Edward Taptich, Esquire, the lawyer for the
Thomas Ruffin, Jr.