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Hunter v. City of Montgomery

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 14, 2017

CHARLES HUNTER, individually and on behalf of a class of persons who were issued tickets for running a red light at those intersections within the City of Montgomery where automated photographic equipment is in use, MIKE HENDERSON, individually and on behalf of a class of persons who were issued tickets for running a red light at those intersections within the City of Montgomery where automated photographic equipment is in use and who have not paid the civil fine, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
CITY OF MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA, AMERICAN TRAFFIC SOLUTIONS, INC., Defendants-Appellants.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama D.C. Docket No. 2:15-cv-00653-BJR-TFM

          Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, ROSENBAUM and HIGGINBOTHAM, [*] Circuit Judges.

          ED CARNES, Chief Judge.

         The City of Montgomery has a red-light camera program that is managed by American Traffic Solutions, Inc. Under that program Charles Hunter and Mike Henderson were ticketed and required to pay civil fines. They are the named plaintiffs in a would-be class action that was filed in Alabama state court claiming that the program and fines violate state law. (The complaint included a federal law claim but it was later dropped.)

         The defendants, the City and Traffic Solutions, removed the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). The district court remanded the case to state court after deciding that the local controversy and home state exceptions, which bar the exercise of jurisdiction under CAFA, applied. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4)(A), (B). This is the appeal by the two defendants of that remand order.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Accepting the factual allegations in the complaint as true for present purposes, in 2007 Traffic Solutions approached the City and offered to install and manage a system of red light cameras within the city limits. The City liked the idea and enacted an ordinance authorizing a system of "Automated Photographic Enforcement of Traffic Control Device Violations." Under the system Traffic Solutions sends photographs of potential red light violations to the Montgomery Police Department. Those photographs are viewed by police officers. If the officers determine that the red light was run, Traffic Solutions sends out a notice of violation to the owner of the vehicle that was driven through the red light. The resulting fine is paid to Traffic Solutions, which keeps a portion of it and remits the remainder to the City.

         Under generally applicable law, Alabama classifies running a red light as a criminal misdemeanor. But in 2009, to accommodate Montgomery's program, the Alabama Legislature enacted a law creating a new "non-criminal category of state law called a civil violation." That category is the opposite of a generally applicable one because it applies only to red light violations detected by cameras within Montgomery's city limits.

         After receiving a notice of violation based on a photo taken by one of Traffic Solutions' red light cameras, Hunter brought this lawsuit as a class action in Alabama state court. His complaint contended that the Legislature's creation of the category of "civil violations" violated the Alabama Constitution, and that the City's ordinance violated state law. It also claimed that the defendants intentionally made yellow lights too short so that drivers would not have enough time to stop before the light turned red, leading to more violations and more revenue. Finally, the complaint contained a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants had acted under color of state law to deprive the class of rights protected by the federal Constitution.

         The relief sought was: a declaration that the red light camera program was unlawful; a judgment requiring the City to refund all red light violation fines it had collected as a result of the program; an injunction directing both defendants to stop issuing tickets based on the program; an award of attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and the common fund doctrine; and the entry of any other necessary and proper orders.

         Traffic Solutions, with the City's consent, removed the lawsuit to federal court based on the § 1983 claim, the request for attorney's fees under § 1988, and CAFA diversity jurisdiction. Hunter then amended his complaint to drop the § 1983 claim and his reliance on § 1988 for attorney's fees. The amendment also added as a second named plaintiff Henderson, another Alabamian who had received a red light ticket because of a Traffic Solutions camera. The amended complaint sought the same types of relief as the original one, except that its request for attorney's fees relied on the common fund doctrine alone.

         About ten months after the case had been removed to federal court, without prompting the district court ordered supplemental briefing on whether it had subject matter jurisdiction. The order doing that noted the plaintiffs had dropped the § 1983 claim, which was the sole federal claim, and it mentioned that one of CAFA's exceptions to the exercise of federal jurisdiction might apply and require a remand to state court. Taking the hint, the plaintiffs' supplemental brief contended that both CAFA's local controversy exception and its home state exception to the exercise of federal jurisdiction applied.

         The district court agreed, finding that both exceptions applied so that "[j]urisdiction over this case [was] not appropriate under . . . the Class Action Fairness Act." The court also declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims (a part of its order the ...


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