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Gernaga v. City of Chicago

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division

May 8, 2015

BOHDAN GERNAGA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, a Municipal Corporation; THE CITY OF CHICAGO DEPARTMENT OF ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS, Defendants-Appellants

Page 145

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 11 M1 625329. Honorable Patrick Rogers, Judge Presiding.

For Appellant: Stephen R. Patton, Corporation Counsel, Benna Ruth Solomon, Deputy Corporation Counsel, Myriam Zreczny Kasper, Chief Assistant Corporation Counsel (Justin A. Houppert, Assistant Corporation Counsel of Counsel) Corporation Counsel of the City of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

For Appellee: Patrick J. Keating, SIMMONS BROWDER GIANARIS ANGELIDES & BARNERD LLC, Chicago, IL.

JUSTICE HALL delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hoffman and Justice Rochford concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

HALL, JUSTICE

Page 146

[¶1] This appeal arises from administrative review of a decision by the City of Chicago's department of administrative hearings (DOAH). Plaintiff, Mr. Bohdan Gernaga, sought administrative review of a decision issued by the DOAH finding him liable for violating section 9-102-020(a) of the Chicago Municipal Code (Municipal Code) (Chicago Municipal Code § 9-102-020(a) (added July 9, 2003)), for entering an intersection against a red traffic light. In July 2003, the City of Chicago (the City) enacted an ordinance under the Municipal Code referred to as the " Automated Red Light Camera Program," which established penalties and fines for registered owners of vehicles used in violation of red light traffic signals. See Keating v. City of Chicago, 2013 IL App. (1st) 112559-U, appeal allowed, 996 N.E.2d 14, 374 Ill.Dec. 567 (Ill. 2013).[1] Pursuant to the ordinance, the City installed " red light" cameras at various traffic intersections throughout Chicago. The cameras automatically record photographs of cars that either enter an intersection against a red traffic light or make a turn in the face of a red light when turning is prohibited. Idris v. City of Chicago, No. 06 C 6085, 2008 WL 182248, at *1 (N.D.Ill. Jan. 16, 2008) (citing section 9-102-020(a)). These photographs are prima facie evidence of traffic violations and the registered owner of the vehicle is, in general, liable for a monetary fine. Chicago Municipal Code § 9-102-020(c) (added July 9, 2003)[2]; Idris, 2008 WL 182248, at *1; Keating, 2013 IL App. (1st) 112559-U, ¶ 2.

Page 147

[¶2] Here, plaintiff was issued red light traffic citation No. 7002962715, for an incident that occurred on September 21, 2010, at the intersection of North Avenue and Halsted Street, Chicago, Illinois. He was also issued red light traffic citation No. 7003059115, for an incident that occurred on November 10, 2010, at the same intersection.

[¶3] Plaintiff contested the traffic citations and the case proceeded to a hearing before the DOAH's administrative law judge (ALJ) on April 14, 2011. At the hearing, the ALJ reviewed the City's photographs and videos, which showed plaintiff's vehicle entering the intersections after the traffic light turned red. Plaintiff did not deny that his vehicle entered the intersections against the red light. Instead, he called an expert witness, Mr. Barnet Fagel, a certified forensic video analyst, who presented a time-coded version of the City's video which he claimed showed that the yellow light at the intersection in question had a duration of only 2.8 seconds on September 21, 2010, when plaintiff's vehicle entered the intersection and only 2.903 seconds on November 10, 2010, when his vehicle entered the intersection. Mr. Fagel maintained that the short durations of the yellow light were not in compliance with " city, state and federal regulations."

[¶4] After reviewing Mr. Fagel's video analysis and hearing his testimony, the ALJ determined that the City had made out prima facie cases of liability for each red light traffic citation. The ALJ concluded, " after reviewing all of the evidence and testimony given today, I'm going to give greater weight to the City and find that the City did prove its case." The ALJ imposed a $100 fine for each traffic citation.

[¶5] On May 18, 2011, plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review with the circuit court. Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed a motion appealing the ALJ's decision and petitioning the court to vacate the decision. After plaintiff retained counsel, he filed a motion entitled " Supplemental Specification of Errors" pursuant to section 3-108(a) of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/3-108(a) (West 2008)), pointing to alleged errors concerning the following: the record on review; the DOAH hearing; and the violations of notice. Plaintiff also challenged the ordinance on the alleged ground that the City did not have the power under its home rule authority to operate the " Automated Red Light Camera Program." The circuit court heard arguments on the case on February 9, 2012, but reserved its ruling.

[¶6] At a follow-up hearing on February 16, 2012, the circuit court remanded the case to the DOAH to supplement the record with a copy of plaintiff's time-coded version of the City's video and Mr. Fagel's curriculum vitae. Plaintiff agreed to withdraw red light traffic citation No. 7002962715 from ...


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