Court battle over Sandy Springs alarm ordinance rages on

Jan. 22, 2019
GELSSA, alarm companies appeal federal judge's dismissal of lawsuit against metro Atlanta city

The alarm industry is continuing its fight against an ordinance currently being enforced in Sandy Springs, Ga., which fines dealers for false alarms caused by their customers. A lawsuit filed by the industry challenging the ordinance’s constitutionality was dismissed by a federal judge last month; however,  the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & Systems Association (GELSSA) ), A-Com Security Co. LLP and Safecom Security Solutions Inc., announced last week that they were filing an appeal in the case.  

In the district court, GELSSA and the alarm companies argued that this civil fine scheme was not rationally related to a legitimate government interest—and therefore unconstitutional—because alarm companies do not have any sort of “master-servant” or “principal-agent” relationship with alarm users and are not in a position to supervise, direct or control the actions of their customers.

 “We are obviously disappointed in the ruling, especially because there is significant federal precedent that supports our clients’ position, and that is why we’re appealing the decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals,” said Brad Carver, a lawyer with the Atlanta firm of Hall Booth Smith who is representing the alarm companies.

“One of our principal arguments is the alarm industry can’t control the behavior of the end users, and the overwhelming majority of false alarms are caused by the end user. By imposing fines on alarm companies, the City is concerned with revenue generation rather than actually addressing the cause of the problem or the persons actually in a position to control it. Beyond constitutional concerns, this act of government over-reach will make it cost-prohibitive for alarm companies to conduct business in this community and provide security services to the City’s residents.”

Since the ordinance became effective, alarm companies have been subjected to tens of thousands of dollars in civil penalties for the actions of alarm users who have caused “false alarms” as determined by the City and billed by Cry Wolf Services, the city’s third-party alarm administrator.

“We can’t allow this type of ordinance to become the industry norm,” said Scott Hightower, GELSSA President. “Passing customer fines on to alarm companies cannot be an option on the table when discussing alarm management.” 

In a statement provided to SecurityInfoWatch following the dismissal of the industry’s lawsuit in December, Stan Martin, Executive Director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), said that majority of law enforcement agencies also believes that the best way to combat false alarms is to hold alarm owners responsible.

“Fortunately, the vast majority of 18,000 chiefs and sheriffs' we work with across the country understand the owners and operators of these systems bear the responsibility for improper use.  The model ordinance we promote ­­– created with the help of law enforcement and recently endorsed by International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriff’s Association – places these fines directly on the chronic abusers,” Martin said.