THOMAS F. WORTHY, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, JAMES D. ADAMS, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, WILLCOX-LUMPKIN CO., INC., individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, Appellants,
THE CITY OF PHENIX CITY, ALABAMA, REDFLEX TRAFFIC SYSTEMS, INC., Appellees.
from the United States District Court for the Middle District
of Alabama D.C. Docket No. 3:17-cv-00073-JZ-GMB
TJOFLAT and NEWSOM, Circuit Judges, and ANTOON, [*] District Judge.
ANTOON, DISTRICT JUDGE:
Thomas F. Worthy, James D. Adams, and Willcox-Lumpkin Co.,
Inc. each received citations for running red lights in Phenix
City, Alabama. A red-light camera-installed and operated
pursuant to Alabama statute and Phenix City
ordinance-captured their alleged violations. The same state
and local provisions that governed the installation and
operation of the red-light cameras also created a two-part
process for citation recipients to challenge their citations.
But Appellants did not fully utilize the procedures provided
for challenging citations, nor did they pay their fines.
Instead, they filed this lawsuit in federal court challenging
the ordinance under the U.S. Constitution and the
Constitution of the State of Alabama.
district court dismissed the case after determining that
Appellants lacked standing under Article III of the U.S.
Constitution. While we disagree in part with that
determination, we conclude that dismissal of Appellants'
federal claims was warranted because the complaint failed to
state a claim for which relief can be granted. Appellants
allege that the ordinance imposed a criminal penalty without
providing constitutionally sufficient procedural safeguards.
But the ordinance imposed a civil penalty, and thus the
procedures prescribed by the ordinance are constitutionally
sufficient. Because we conclude that Appellants have not
stated any federal claims, we decline to consider their state
Phenix City's Red-Light Camera Regime
October 2012, after authorization from the Alabama
legislature, Phenix City adopted Ordinance Number 2012-21,
which permitted the installation and operation of cameras to
enforce traffic-control-device violations at certain
intersections in Phenix City. Phenix City contracted with
Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc.-a private company specializing
in red-light camera installation and operation throughout the
United States-to install and operate the cameras.
ordinance establishes a straightforward enforcement scheme.
When a motorist runs a red light at one of the covered
intersections in Phenix City, a camera captures a video of
the vehicle and photographs the red light and the
vehicle's license plate. A Redflex employee reviews the
video and photographic evidence of the potential violations
and sends the information to a Phenix City police officer,
who has full discretion to issue a citation. If the police
officer decides to issue a citation, he signs a notice and
directs Redflex to mail it to the registered owner of the
vehicle. The ordinance requires that the notice include: (1)
the details of the violation; (2) an image of the violation;
and (3) instructions on how the citation recipient should
respond to the citation, including information on how to
contest the citation. Subject to a few affirmative defenses,
a motorist who receives a notice of violation is liable for a
$100.00 civil penalty. These civil penalties, which Phenix
City contends are aimed at enhancing public safety, are not
reported on the driver's driving record.
citation recipient opts to contest the civil penalty, he must
request an administrative hearing in writing. The
administrative hearing is held before a non-judicial hearing
officer, and Phenix City has the burden of proving the
violation by a preponderance of the evidence. Proof may be
introduced via affidavit, meaning that the city is not
required to produce a live witness to prove its case. If a
citation recipient is found liable or fails to appear at the
hearing, an additional $25.00 fee is assessed for hearing
costs. Citation recipients found liable at the administrative
hearing may appeal that finding to the Circuit Court of
Russell County, Alabama, upon payment of the standard circuit
court filing fee of $279.00. On appeal, the circuit court
sits as trier of both law and fact. With the exception of the
lower burden of proof, the enabling statute requires that the
circuit court "use the procedures that apply to criminal
convictions in municipal court." If the citation
recipient prevails in circuit court, both the filing fee and
the hearing costs are refunded.
Appellants' Red-Light Citations
Appellant received a red-light citation from Phenix City. In
response to his citation, Worthy requested and attended an
administrative hearing. Though the hearing officer found
Worthy liable for the violation, Worthy did not pursue an
appeal to circuit court because the circuit court filing fee
exceeded the cost of the fine. Adams and Willcox did not
challenge their citations. Appellants "have been
threatened with legal action and some have been pursued
through collection efforts in connection with the civil
penalties imposed," but they have not paid the civil
instead filed this lawsuit. They allege that the Phenix City
ordinance violates their federal and state constitutional
rights because it imposes penalties without providing
constitutionally sufficient processes to challenge those
penalties. And they claim that Redflex conspired with Phenix
City to profit from the allegedly unconstitutional ordinance.
Phenix City and Redflex moved to dismiss the case, arguing
that Appellants lacked constitutional standing to sue and
that even if they had standing, they failed to state a viable
claim for relief.
district court agreed that Appellants lacked standing to
challenge the procedures provided in the ordinance
"because they cannot trace any injury to a process which
they failed to utilize." Concluding that all of
Appellants' claims related to the ordinance's appeal
procedures, the district court dismissed all of
Appellants' claims without addressing whether the
complaint stated any viable claims for relief.
Standard of Review
dismissal for lack of standing is akin to a dismissal for
lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). See Morast v. Lance, 807
F.2d 926, 932 n.6 (11th Cir. 1987). Thus, we review the
district court's decision to dismiss the case for lack of
standing de novo. See McElmurray v. Consol.
Gov't of Augusta-Richmond Cty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1250
(11th Cir. 2007).
bring suit in federal court, a party must have constitutional
standing, which is "an essential and unchanging part of
the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III."
Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560
(1992). The elements that form the "irreducible
constitutional minimum of standing" are well-known: (1)
"the plaintiff must have suffered an injury in fact-an
invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a)
concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not
conjectural or hypothetical"; (2) "there must be a
causal connection between the injury and the conduct
complained of-the injury has to be fairly traceable to the
challenged action of the defendant, and not the result of the
independent action of some third party not before the
court"; and (3) "it must be likely, as opposed to
merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a
favorable decision." Id. at 560-61 (alterations
omitted) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
"The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the
burden of establishing these elements." Id. at
these requirements are not "mere pleading requirements
but rather an indispensable part of the plaintiff's case,
each element must be supported in the same way as any other
matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof,
i.e., with the manner and degree of evidence
required at the successive stages of the litigation."
Id. Here, the standing challenge occurred at the
motion-to-dismiss stage, meaning that "it may be
sufficient to provide 'general factual allegations of
injury resulting from the defendant's conduct.'"
Bochese v. Town of Ponce Inlet, 405 F.3d 964, 975
(11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fla. Pub. Interest Research
Grp. Citizen Lobby, Inc. v. EPA, 386 F.3d 1070, 1083
(11th Cir. 2004)).
parties agree that Appellants suffered an injury when they
received the civil penalties for their red-light violations.
And there can be no doubt that the relief Appellants seek-an
order declaring the ordinance unconstitutional, awarding
Appellants damages, and enjoining further use of red-light
cameras in Phenix City-would redress their injuries. The
question of causation, however, proves more vexing. This
complication stems from Appellants' failure to fully
utilize the allegedly unconstitutional procedures provided in
an injury is causally connected to the alleged injury-causing
government conduct turns on whether "the line of
causation between the illegal conduct and injury [is] too
attenuated." Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 752
(1984), abrogated on other grounds by Lexmark Int'l,
Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., 572 U.S. 118
(2014). Here, Appellants' shotgun complaint, see
Weiland v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff's Office, 792
F.3d 1313, 1321 (11th Cir. 2015), makes it difficult to
discern the types of claims they are asserting and whether
they pleaded facts sufficient to causally connect those
claims to the injury they suffered. Cf. Allen, 468
U.S. at 752 ("Typically . . . the standing inquiry
requires careful judicial examination of a complaint's
allegations to ascertain whether the particular plaintiff is
entitled to an adjudication of the particular claims
district court concluded that because all of the challenges
in the complaint relate to the procedures provided in the
ordinance for challenging the civil penalties, the complaint
challenges only those procedures. But the complaint can also
be read more broadly-as a challenge to the constitutionality
of the ordinance as a whole. Under that reading, Appellants
are not asserting that the process they received under the
ordinance was constitutionally deficient because of some
error, but rather that the ordinance itself is
constitutionally deficient as a whole because of the
procedures-or lack thereof-that it provides.
latter reading properly characterizes Appellants'
challenge to the ordinance, as Appellants seek to invalidate
the whole ordinance because of the deficient procedures it
provides. And at this stage, when there are two equally
plausible ways to read a complaint, we should adopt the
reading that is most favorable to Appellants. See La
Grasta v. First Union Sec., Inc., 358 F.3d 840, 845
(11th Cir. 2004) ("We must view the allegations of the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs,
consider the allegations of the complaint as true, and accept
all reasonable inferences therefrom." (alteration
omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Appellants are challenging the ordinance as a whole-and not
just the procedures it provides-they have standing to bring
their claims for damages. As noted above, the asserted
"injury in fact" is the civil penalty assessed
against Appellants under the ordinance. Plainly, there is a
causal connection between the ordinance and this injury. And
Appellants' injuries would be redressed by a court order
awarding damages and declaring the ordinance
Hughes v. City of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Eighth
Circuit addressed standing to challenge the appeal procedures
of a similar red-light ordinance. 840 F.3d 987 (8th Cir.
2016). The court determined that the citation recipients had
standing even though they did not utilize the procedures
provided in the ordinance because the "alleged injury .
. . [was] inadequate process directly traceable to the
City." Id. at 994. Our conclusion here is not
as broad. An abstract allegation of inadequate process is not
a legally cognizable Article III injury. See Olim v.
Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238, 250 (1983) ("Process is
not an end in itself. Its constitutional purpose is to
protect a substantive interest to which the individual has a
legitimate claim of entitlement."); see also Seal v.
Morgan, 229 F.3d 567, 574 (6th Cir. 2000) ("There
is no abstract federal constitutional right to process for
process's sake."). Here, the legally cognizable
Article III injury is the imposition of the civil penalty
pursuant to the ordinance, not the exposure to inadequate
process. Accordingly, Appellants have standing to bring their
claims for damages only because they challenge the ordinance
as a whole, thus causally linking the ordinance to the injury
that they suffered.
conclusion that Appellants have standing to bring their
damages claims does not end the standing inquiry, however,
because Appellants also seek injunctive relief. Specifically,
Appellants seek an order enjoining further use of red-light
cameras in Phenix City and requiring that the cameras be
removed. "[T]o demonstrate that a case or controversy
exists to meet the Article III standing requirement when a
plaintiff is seeking injunctive or declaratory relief, a
plaintiff must allege facts from which it appears there is a
substantial likelihood that he will suffer injury in the
future." Malowney v. Fed. Collection Deposit
Grp., 193 F.3d 1342, 1346 (11th Cir. 1999) (emphasis
added) (citing City of L.A. v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95,
102 (1983)); see also Lyons, 461 U.S. at 105 (noting
that a single injury likely confers standing to bring a
damages action but that "standing to seek . . . [an]
injunction . . . depend[s] on whether . . . [the plaintiff]
was likely to suffer future injury from the [complained of
government conduct]"). In determining "whether a
future injury is likely to ...