State Supreme Court says stop to challenge of a credit card fee on a red-light traffic camera charge
In a potential class-action lawsuit, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a motorist’s challenge to a credit-card fee that he was charged after getting caught on camera running a red light.
Justices unanimously ruled against Steven Pincus, who filed the lawsuit in 2018 after he got hit with a $158 fine for a red-light violation in North Miami Beach. Pincus contended that American Traffic Solutions, Inc., which had a contract to run the city’s red-light camera program, improperly tacked on a $7.90 fee when he paid by credit card.
A federal district judge in South Florida ruled against Pincus, who then took the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Atlanta-based appellate court last year asked the Florida Supreme Court to determine whether American Traffic Solutions violated state law in charging the fee — a move known as certifying a question to the state court.
The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected Pincus’ argument that the company had been “unjustly enriched” with the fee.
In an eight-page opinion, Justice Jorge Labarga wrote that American Traffic Solutions gave “value” in exchange for the fee. As examples, he wrote that Pincus did not have to buy postage and use a check or money order to pay the traffic fine; could pay the balance over time; and avoided the risk of the payment being delayed, stolen or lost.
“Accordingly, Pincus’s unjust enrichment claim fails because he has not alleged a benefit conferred and accepted which would be unjust for ATS (American Traffic Solutions) to retain,” the opinion said.
The Supreme Court decision sends the case back to the federal appeals court.
Red-light cameras in Florida have long been controversial and have spurred a variety of legal challenges.
During arguments in October at the Supreme Court, Bret Lusskin, an attorney for Pincus, contended that the additional fee was not allowed by state laws aimed at having uniform traffic rules. Also, he said American Traffic Solutions, a major player in the red-light camera industry, can’t require motorists to pay additional fees and that it is an “illusion that this is voluntary.”
“There is $7.90 that is in ATS’ hands that should be in Mr. Pincus’ hands,” Lusskin said. “It was unlawful for them to impose any additional fee, fine, surcharge or costs, and it’s illegal to collect a commission.”
But Joseph Lang, an attorney for American Traffic Solutions, pointed to Pincus’ decision to pay by credit card instead of using another method.
“While he was compelled to pay the violation, he was certainly not compelled in any way to choose to pay with a credit card,” Lang said during the October arguments. “He could have paid with a money order or a check and not incurred the fee.”