District of Columbia
In re Bright Ideas Co., 19-CV-1032 (D.C. November 10, 2022), the appellant received a $100 speeding ticket that was issued after an automated traffic camera photographed the appellant’s car speeding. The appellant petitioned the Superior Court for leave to challenge the DMV Traffic Adjudication Appeals Board’s decision upholding the ticket. The appellant argued that it did not violate the pertinent regulations because the posted speed limit sign was illegible. It also alleged that the District of Columbia was engaged in an unconstitutional practice of conducting speed camera surveillance and ticketing in locations where speed limits were not reliably posted, and where drivers would not reasonably expect the speed limit to be only 25 miles per hour. The Superior Court denied the petition and the appellant appealed.
The District of Columbia asked the Court of Appeals to summarily affirm and uphold the ticket. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals denied the motion and directed the District to file a supplemental brief concerning the constitutional issues raised by the plaintiff. The District did not do so and instead commenced the process to void the ticket and filed a motion to dismiss the appeal as moot. The plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing that the District was attempting to evade judicial review of its practices.
The Court held that the appeal was not moot and rejected the District’s motion to dismiss. In general, an event that renders relief impossible or unnecessary while the appeal is pending renders that appeal moot. However, the fact that a party voluntarily stops engaging in illegal conduct does not deprive the tribunal of the power to hear and determine a case. A party claiming mootness because it voluntarily stops engaging in conduct faces the heavy burden of making absolutely clear that the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur. The Court found that the District failed to carry this burden.
The Court also rejected the District’s argument that the appeal was moot because its decision to void the ticket provided all available relief to the plaintiff. Once standing has been established at the outset of litigation, courts may retain jurisdiction when there is some degree of likelihood that the appellant will again suffer the deprivation of rights that gave rise to the suit. The Court also noted that the rarity of these challenges gave the District a strong incentive to try to evade review.
The Court explained that D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 18, § 2200.2 permits the mayor to determine and declare a reasonable and safe speed limit, for any public roadway, which shall be effective when appropriate signs giving notice of the speed limits are erected. Under D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 18, § 2000.5, once a speed limit has been designated in accordance with section 2200.2, then that speed limit cannot be enforced against a driver if the speed limit sign is obscured or blocked. The default speed limit provided in D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 18, § 2200.6 only applies when a speed limit is not otherwise designated in accordance with section 2200.2.
Therefore, the Court held that the regulations did not permit the District to simply enforce the default speed limit when a designated speed limit applied but was not legibly posted. The Court found that the Appeals Board’s contrary interpretation of the regulations contravened the regulations’ plain language and gave rise to a host of absurdities.
The Court noted that where the posted speed limit is illegible or otherwise obstructed, the District can still cite drivers for traveling at an unreasonable and imprudent speed under D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 18, § 2200.3.
The Court reversed the Appeals Board's decision upholding the ticket. The Court did not reach the Constitutional issue raised by the plaintiff.