Federal judge dismisses class-action lawsuit against Carmel

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A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed a federal class-action lawsuit filed against the city of Carmel for its enforcement of a local traffic ordinance.

Attorney Edward Bielski, president of Bielski Law LLC and former partner of Stewart & Irwin PC filed the lawsuit against the city at the end of last year alleging the city knowingly enforced an illegal traffic ordinance and wrongly collected money from citations “to maximize city revenue.”

The lawsuit named 18 plaintiffs, of which only two were Carmel residents. All had been cited under Carmel’s local traffic ordinance, which was deemed invalid by the Indiana Court of Appeals in a separate lawsuit last year.

The plaintiffs claimed the illegal citations resulted in higher auto insurance rates and points on their driver's licenses.

The complaint also said plaintiffs were given false information regarding their traffic infractions, so they couldn’t properly defend themselves. It also alleged city police had a policy of wrongly ticketing drivers on Interstate 465 and wrongly ticketing drivers for non-moving violations.

Carmel had requested the court dismiss the lawsuit and argued that the “harm” the plaintiffs described would have occurred regardless of how they were cited because all of them admitted to the traffic violations.

In the decision issued Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson agreed that the complaint did not tie the alleged harm to the Carmel defendants, which included Mayor Jim Brainard, Carmel City Council members from 2014 and 2015, Carmel City Court, Carmel City Judge Brian Poindexter, Carmel attorney Doug Haney and Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles superintendent Kent Abernathy.

"We are pleased with this decision that confirms our view that this case was frivolous and needed to be dismissed to preserve justice and the procedures used by many cities and towns across Indiana," Brainard said in a statement sent to IBJ.

Since initially filing the lawsuit in December, Bielski amended the complaint several times and repeatedly stated that “discovery will show” the claims to be true.

Among several reasons cited to dismiss the case, Magnus-Stinson ruled that many of plaintiffs' claims were “too speculative.”

“… These allegations all turn wholly on what plaintiffs think they will learn through discovery, and not on what plaintiffs already know to be true,” Magnus-Stinson wrote.

In addition, Magnus-Stinson found that some of the plaintiffs' claims lacked standing.

The suit stems from the city’s previous traffic ordinance that was found to violate the state’s Home Rule act because it duplicated state law. The Indiana Court of Appeals decided that case Dec. 11, and the city later repealed the ordinance in question.

That lawsuit had been filed by Jason Maraman, who had been pulled over and cited for driving 30 mph in a construction zone with a 20 mph speed limit .

Maraman is still pursuing another federal lawsuit against the city in which he accuses a Carmel police officer of giving false testimony and targeting his vehicle for having an out-of-county license plate. He also accuses the officer of inappropriately attempting to speak with a judge during a recess in one of the previous hearings.

In her ruling, Magnus-Stinson accuses the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit of trying to “piggyback onto Mr. Maraman’s success,” but because the traffic ordinance wasn’t deemed invalid at the time they received their tickets, the issue doesn’t apply.

Carmel had also requested sanctions against Bielski and requested that he be ordered to pay all or at least a significant portion of the city's legal fees.

The judge denied the request, saying sanctions weren’t warranted, but did note concerns with how the case was handled.

“The Court is disturbed by Plaintiffs’ scattershot approach to this litigation, as demonstrated by the fact that Plaintiffs amended their complaint three times in three months,” Magnus-Stinson wrote.

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