The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit last week issued a ruling affirming that the City of Sandy Springs, Ga., can issue fines to alarm companies for false alarms caused by their customers.
The primary issue raised by the plaintiffs – Safecom Security Solutions, A-Com Security Company and the Georgia Electronic Life Safety & Systems Association (GELSSA) – in the appeal was that the fine scheme constructed by the city was not rationally related to legitimate government interests and thus unconstitutional.
However, the 11th Circuit agreed with the lower court’s finding that the ordinance was a “perfectly reasonable regulation that fell within the state’s police power” and that it was rational given that it is designed to encourage both alarm owners and companies to properly use and maintain their systems.
“As we see it, it is entirely rational for the City to penalize alarm companies for the false alarms of their customers. For one thing, undoubtedly, alarm companies can influence the behavior of their customers. They may devote more time and resources to training their customers (the property owners) about the proper use of alarm systems and the need for avoiding false alarms. Moreover, they may sever their relationships with chronic abusers -- those customers who repeatedly set off false alarms. They may draft their contracts with care and particularly address the chronic abuser. And they can pass along any fees that have been imposed on them onto their customers, which would directly motivate property owners to avoid triggering false alarms. Any of these possibilities would satisfy the law’s requirement that the means adopted be reasonably related to the ends of reducing false alarms and saving the public’s money,” the court wrote in its ruling.
The appeals court also rejected claims by the plaintiffs that appellate procedures in the ordinance violated their due process rights finding that they lacked standing to bring these claims.
“While we are disappointed in the court’s ruling, we are pleased that other cities have shown little interest in Sandy Springs’ vindictive approach to our industry,” said Scott Hightower, GELSSA President.
“Even after it started fining alarm companies, Sandy Springs continued to impose additional punitive measures on the 80% of the community that depends on alarm systems to protect life and property,” added Stan Martin, Executive Director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC). “The Sandy Springs ordinance is also among the most punitive in the nation with excessive fines, even when a dispatch is cancelled and the requirement of some type of verification before police will be dispatched.”
In a statement, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said the city was pleased that court agreed that the ordinance was a reasonable solution to the problems posed by false alarms.
“False alarms have, for decades, placed a strain on public safety resources. We are pleased that the appellate court recognized our efforts to provide a fair and reasonable solution to curb this waste on public safety efforts,” he said.
SIAC said that industry attorneys are currently reviewing the ruling to determine what, if any, next steps are appropriate.