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Court Rejects Red-Light Citation For Rental Car Driver

MIAMI (CBSMiami/NSF) -- An appeals court Wednesday ruled that a rental-car driver's constitutional rights were violated because she did not receive the same treatment as other motorists nabbed by red-light cameras.

A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal upheld a lower-court ruling in favor of June Dhar in her case against the city of Fort Lauderdale.

Dhar rented a vehicle from Dollar Rent A Car and was recorded by a camera running a red light. Dollar received a notice of the violation, which led it to submit information identifying Dhar as the driver of the car. Dhar sought to dismiss the case because she did not receive the notice of violation, which included a $158 penalty. Instead she received a $263 uniform traffic citation, which was issued because the lower penalty had not been paid.

A Broward County judge and the appeals court ruled that Dhar's equal-protection and due-process rights had been violated and that the citation should be dismissed.

"We find the city's attempt to justify the disparate treatment given to short-term renters to be wholly unpersuasive,'' said the appeals-court opinion by judges W. Matthew Stevenson, Melanie May and Mark Klingensmith. "Whether a person owns a vehicle, leases a vehicle, or enters into a short-term rental agreement, the circumstances surrounding the infraction remain the same. The activity that is being addressed (either poor driving, or ensuring that people are responsible when loaning their vehicle to others) is the same. Therefore, short-term automobile renters are similarly situated to registered owners and lessees, and no rational basis exists for the unequal treatment given to defendant (Dhar) by the city in applying this statute."

The appeals court noted, however, that the Legislature in 2013 changed state law to prevent such disparities.

The three-page ruling does not say when Dhar was spotted running a red light but indicates it was before the 2013 law took effect.

"The News Service of Florida contributed to this report."

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