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Agomo v. Adrianfenty

February 1, 2007

EMELIKE U. AGOMO, ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
ADRIANFENTY, MAYOR, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE.*FN1



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-6520-02) (Hon. Melvin R. Wright, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nebeker, Senior Judge

Argued May 12, 2005

Before FARRELL and GLICKMAN, Associate Judges, and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.

Appellants Emelike U. Agomo and Auto Ward, Inc. filed a complaint against the District of Columbia under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Automated Traffic Enforcement System ("ATE System") established by D.C. Code § 50-2209.01 (2001) et seq. violates the guarantees of due process under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. In essence, the ATE System detects moving violations under the District's traffic laws through the use of photographs taken by automated cameras installed at various locations throughout the District. The trial court denied the District's initial motion to dismiss the complaint on January 14, 2003, but six months later granted summary judgment for the District and denied appellants' subsequent motion to alter or amend the summary judgment order on July 14, 2003. Appellants filed a timely notice of appeal on July 21, 2003.

Appellants argue that the method of assessing liability preliminarily to the registered owner of the car conflicts with the statutory framework set forth in D.C. Code § 50-2302.06 (a), which requires that the District prove a moving violation by clear and convincing evidence, and that this "presumption of liability" violates their due process rights. Second, appellants argue that the compensation arrangement with a private corporation, Automated Computer Systems, Inc. ("ACS"), for certain administrative aspects of the ATE System violates due process by creating an adjudicatory tribunal that is tainted by financial considerations. We hold that there exists no constitutional violation as asserted and affirm.

Background

I. The Statutory Scheme

A. D.C. Code Title 50, Chapter 23: Traffic Adjudication

The stated purpose of the traffic adjudication statutes is "to decriminalize and to provide for the administrative adjudication of certain violations," D.C. Code § 50-2301.01, such as the moving violations involved in this case. An "infraction" subject to this section of the Code is defined as "any conduct subject to administrative adjudication under the provisions of this chapter and with respect to which the [Attorney General] does not commence a proceeding in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia." D.C. Code § 50-2301.02 (4). The statute defines "operator" and "owner" as follows:

(6) The term "operator" means:

(A) Any person, corporation, firm, agency, association, organization, federal, state or local governmental agency in the business of renting or leasing vehicles to be used or operated in the District;

(B) An owner who operates his own vehicle; or

(C) A person who operates a vehicle owned by another.

(7) The term "owner" means:

(A) Any person, corporation, firm, agency, association, organization, federal, state or local governmental agency or other authority or other entity having the property of or title to a vehicle used or operated in the District; or

(B) Any registrant of a vehicle used or operated in the District; or

(C) Any person, corporation, firm, agency, association, organization, federal, state or local government agency or authority or other entity in the business of renting or leasing vehicles to be used or operated in the District.

Id. § 50-2301.02 (6)-(7).

Applying these statutes to moving violations, Subchapter II of this code chapter specifies that

"[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law, all violations of statutes, regulations, executive orders or rules relating to the operation of any vehicle in the District . . . shall be processed and adjudicated pursuant to the provisions of this subchapter. . . ." D.C. Code § 50-2302.01. For any such alleged traffic violation, Subchapter II provides for a hearing:

(a) Each hearing for the adjudication of a traffic infraction pursuant to this subchapter shall be held before a hearing examiner in accordance with Chapter IX of Title 18 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations except as provided by this chapter. The burden of proof shall be on the District and no infraction shall be established except by clear and convincing evidence.

(b) If a person to whom a notice of infraction has been issued fails to appear at a hearing for which he or she received notice, the hearing examiner may enter a default judgment . . . .

(d) After due consideration of the evidence and arguments presented, the hearing examiner shall determine whether the infraction has been established. Where the infraction is not established, an order dismissing the charge shall be entered. Where a determination is made that an infraction has been established or where an answer admitting the commission of the infraction or admitting the commission of the infraction with explanation has been received, an appropriate order shall be entered in the Department's records.

(e) An order, entered pursuant to a determination that an infraction has been established or pursuant to the receipt of an answer admitting the infraction or admitting the infraction with explanation, shall be civil in nature but shall be treated as an adjudication that an infraction has been committed . . . .

Id. § 50-2302.06. An appeal from an adverse decision by the examiner may be made to an Appeals Board, D.C. Code § 50-2304.02, and ultimately to the Superior Court, D.C. Code § 50-2304.05. See generally Kovach v. District of Columbia, 805 A.2d 957, 961-63 (D.C. 2002) (describing procedures for motorists challenging traffic tickets).

B. District Regulations Governing Issuance and Adjudication of Notices of Infraction

Further procedural protections are established through District regulations. The regulations require certain identifying information to be included in any Notice of Infraction ("ticket"). 18 DCMR § 3000.1 (2006).*fn2 The regulations also delineate the rules of evidence applicable to any administrative hearing on traffic violations:

3012.1 The burden of proof shall be on the District. 3012.2 The standards of proof established by the D.C. Traffic Adjudication Act are the following:

(a) Clear and convincing evidence in cases of moving violations; and

(b) Preponderance of the evidence in cases of parking violations. 3012.3 All testimony shall be given under oath or affirmation administered by the hearing examiner. 3012.4 The respondent shall have the right to present witnesses, to conduct examination and cross examination, and to introduce documentary evidence. 3012.5 The hearing examiner may require production of evidence.

3012.6 The Notice of Infraction shall constitute prima facie evidence of the statements contained in the notice and shall be a record ...


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