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Federal judge dismisses traffic ordinance lawsuit against Carmel

August 2, 2017

A federal judge has dismissed a case against the city of Carmel that accused the police department of targeting out-of-county license plates and alleged an officer gave false testimony in a previous trial.

Jason Maraman, who won a state lawsuit appealing his speeding ticket from Carmel in April 2016, filed the federal complaint in June 2016 and sought compensation for damages.

Maraman, who represented himself, said he filed the federal lawsuit because he felt certain issues involving his traffic ticket weren’t addressed or weren’t appropriate for the lower courts. In the complaint, he argued that the city violated his Fourth Amendment rights prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure, and his Fourteenth Amendment rights guaranteeing the right to travel.

Maraman specifically accused the Carmel Police Department of illegally stopping vehicles without just cause and regularly stopping older vehicles with license plates registered to Marion County addresses.

He also alleged that the officer who pulled him over, Scott Spillman, failed to videotape the interaction, and Spillman colluded with city attorney Ashley Ulbricht to give false testimony during the state case.

The city requested the lawsuit be dismissed, arguing that the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and that Maraman failed to state a legitimate claim because the issues had been decided in the lower court case.

Attorneys for Carmel also noted that the ordinance in question has since been repealed.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt sided with Carmel and dismissed the case Friday, saying the issues Maraman raised were not violations of the U.S. Constitution.

“Unfortunately for Maraman, the mere fact that state rules or statutes are violated does not in itself amount to a constitutional violation,” Pratt wrote.

“We are pleased with this decision. We feel this was a frivolous claim for damages that would have cost taxpayers,” Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said in a written statement. “In the end, this should have been all about safety on our streets—that's why we enforce laws on speeding—to keep others safe. Instead, it became a case of one person seeking a loophole, then trying to claim damages from taxpayers.”

Pratt dismissed several of the points raised without prejudice, meaning Maraman could re-file a separate lawsuit, but he said it’s unlikely he'll pursue that option.

“While I am disappointed by the District Court's ruling, I will not be deterred by this result,” Maraman said in an email. “Although I am still reviewing the ruling to determine the best course of action, I feel it is important that Carmel be held accountable for the misconduct of the Carmel Police Department, Officer Scott Spillman, and Assistant City Attorney Ashley Ulbricht.”

The issue started in June 2014 when Maraman was pulled over and cited for driving 30 mph in a 20 mph zone. In the federal lawsuit, Maraman wrote that officer Scott Spillman testified that the speed limit was 20 mph, when it was actually 40 mph.

In October 2014, a Carmel City Court judge ruled against Maraman, but he appealed the decision, and in December 2015, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Maraman.

The case involved thousands of other speeding citations in which the police cited the local version of state law and collected revenue from violators. Maraman had questioned whether the city’s traffic ordinance was lawful because it was a duplicate of state law and violated Indiana’s Home Rule Act.

The city appealed the Court of Appeals decision, but in April 2016, the Indiana Supreme Court refused to hear the case, which allowed the appellate ruling to stand. Maraman was awarded $250 for court costs and damages.

The city recently won a battle in a federal class-action lawsuit regarding its traffic ordinance. That lawsuit, filed by attorney Edward Bielski, president of Bielski Law LLC and a former partner of Stewart & Irwin PC, argued that the city knowingly enforced an illegal traffic ordinance and wrongly collected money from citations based on the infractions “for the purpose of maximizing revenue to the city of Carmel.”

It also alleged the city should have been required to share that revenue with the county and state.

Carmel pushed to dismiss that case as well, arguing that Bielski “has filed frivolous pleadings without first conducting a reasonable and competent investigation of applicable law and undisputed facts.”

In October 2016, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the case, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision in July.

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