Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

City Blocked from Using Traffic-Camera Violations Appeals Process

Image of a traffic signal with a camera

Supreme Court rules Toledo must have all appeals of red-light and speed-camera tickets heard only in municipal court.

Image of a traffic signal with a camera

Supreme Court rules Toledo must have all appeals of red-light and speed-camera tickets heard only in municipal court.

Toledo cannot use an “administrative” procedure to hear appeals of traffic tickets issued through red-light and speed-detection cameras because state lawmakers gave municipal courts exclusive authority to consider the matters, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court granted motorist Susan Magsig’s request to block Toledo from using its procedure of having a city police hearing officer consider appeals of speeding violations caught on camera. Writing for the Court, Justice Judith L. French stated that a change in state law, which took effect in July 2019, gives exclusive jurisdiction to municipal courts to decide all civil actions concerning traffic violations, including traffic-camera citations.

Jurisdiction to hear traffic-camera cases was one of several provisions added to House Bill 62 in 2019 that has drawn the objections of municipalities. The Court noted today that it only addressed the issue of the municipal court’s jurisdiction, which Magsig raised. Other objections to H.B. 62’s change in traffic-camera procedures are pending in cases filed in lower courts throughout Ohio.

Ticketed Driver Seeks Hearing
Toledo has a civil-enforcement system for its red-light and speeding-camera violations. The vehicle owner, or in some cases, the operator, receives a $120 civil penalty for speeding. The offense is deemed a “noncriminal violation,” and does not include the imposition of points toward a driver’s  license suspension.

The owners of vehicles caught on camera speeding are sent a “notice of liability,” which gives the owner 21 days to file an appeal with a hearing officer. If the owner does not pay or appeal the penalty within the 21-day time period, the city deems that to be a waiver of the right to contest the citation and considers it an admission that a penalty is owed. An additional $25 penalty is added for those who pay or appeal after 21 days.

In August 2019, a Toledo police officer using a handheld speed camera cited Magsig for driving 75 mph in a 60-mph zone. A notice sent to her informed her she had a right to appeal. Magsig appealed.

Prior to her appeal date, Magsig sought a writ of prohibition from the Supreme Court to prohibit Toledo from conducting the hearing. Magsig noted that R.C. 1901.20(A)(1) was amended in 2019 and took effect the month before she was cited. The change to the statute granted municipal courts exclusive jurisdiction to consider every noncriminal traffic-law violation, she maintained. The Court asked the city and Magsig to submit evidence and file briefs. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office submitted an amicus curiae brief supporting Magsig’s position.

City Maintains Process Unaffected by Law Change
The opinion noted that Toledo had successfully challenged a prior attempt to take away its right to conduct the administrative hearings. The city argued that the Court’s 2014 Walker v. Toledo decision indicated that R.C. 1901.20 contained no language barring the administrative hearings. Today’s opinion noted the law at the time of Walker stated the municipal court had jurisdiction of the violation “of any ordinance of a municipal corporation.”

The Court noted in Walker that “any” did not mean “exclusive” and the city could continue its administrative proceedings even if the municipal court had jurisdiction to hear appeals by motorists who contested the city’s administrative decision.  In H.B. 62, lawmakers added the word “exclusive” to R.C. 1901.20(A)(1).

“The current version of R.C. 1901.20(A)(1) clearly and unambiguously reserves for municipal courts exclusive authority to adjudicate every civil traffic-law violation,” the Court ruled.

Toledo argued that “exclusive jurisdiction” means other courts, aside from the municipal court, can be excluded from hearing traffic violation appeals, but that administrative appeals are not impacted. The Court stated the change in the law is without limitations, and that Toledo’s preferred interpretation would require the justices add words to the law, “which we are not permitted to do.”

2019-1526. State ex rel. Magsig v. Toledo, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-3416.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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