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Judge ends suit saying Doraville writes too many tickets

The 2018 lawsuit alleged that the DeKalb County town excessively relies on fines and fees, which make up roughly 15 percent of its overall revenue.

DORAVILLE, Ga. — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit claiming that an Atlanta suburb improperly relied on fines and fees to finance its budget.

U.S. District Judge Richard Story last week dismissed a case brought against the city of Doraville by four people represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group.

The 2018 lawsuit alleged that the DeKalb County town excessively relies on fines and fees, which make up roughly 15 percent of its overall revenue. Story found that plaintiffs hadn’t proven that police and code enforcement officers were writing tickets for the sake of driving up revenue. 

The Institute for Justice says it disagrees that revenue needs aren't driving ticketing and plans to appeal. 

It all started with an old driveway in Doraville that caught the attention of a code enforcement officer who accused the homeowner, Hilda Brucker, of violating city code. 

Brucker said she was suddenly sentenced, by a judge in Doraville City Court, to six months probation and the threat of jail if she didn’t immediately pay a fine and spend thousands of dollars fixing her driveway, a driveway that’s been that way ever since she bought the house 28 years ago.

She said neighbors have never complained to her about it, and the city never wrote her a ticket until that day a year and a half ago.

Brucker said in 2018 that she has no doubt the city had suddenly dug up a vaguely written and unenforceable code section about driveways and used it against her. She believes it’s part of a city hall program of writing as many tickets to homeowners and drivers as possible, no matter how minor the violations, simply to make money--more than $3 million a year.

She and three other metro-Atlanta residents took their concerns to federal court claiming the city is unconstitutionally raising as much money as possible from fining people in any way possible. 

In 2017, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights looked at how much revenue cities across the country collected and how much of it came from fines. On average, just under one and a half percent of a city’s revenues came from fines.

But the study found that five metro-Atlanta cities, Doraville, Clarkston, Morrow, Stone Mountain, and Riverdale. were among the worst ten in America.

Brucker’s lawsuit initially demanded $1, along with a judge's order for "the end of policing for profit, code enforcement for profit."

The alternatives for the city, Brucker said, would have been to find other sources of revenues, or to cut the budget; enforce the laws, she said, but don't subject people to the code-enforcement equivalent of a speed trap.