The school zone speed enforcement cameras for Saghalie Middle School are located on 21st Avenue Southwest. File photo

City of Federal Way under fire in class action lawsuit for ‘illegal’ school zone

One company, two Tacoma residents and a Federal Way resident are suing the city of Federal Way in a class-action lawsuit for ticketing drivers in a school zone they say is illegal for a span of seven years.

Attorney Alexander S. Kleinberg, with Eisenhower Carlson PLLC, claims the city owes an estimated $3.9 million to the plaintiffs and others affected. Approximately 9,000 people were ticketed between 2009-13, according to a past report. It is unknown how many were ticketed between 2014 and present day.

The lawsuit was filed in December with declarations being made this month.

The plaintiffs listed in the suit, Jimmy Dewberry and Todd Scheidegger of Tacoma, Marilyn P. Gary of Federal Way, and Dickson Company, each received speeding tickets in the Saghalie school zone for going more than 20 mph.

Their tickets were issued by photo enforcement cameras or police officers. Each had to pay between $210-$250 for the tickets.

Kleinberg wrote the school zone is illegal because it is more than 300 feet from Saghalie Middle School. Citing Washington state law, RCW 46.61.440(2), he states the law limits where school zones can be created and that they “(a) may be created on a highway bordering a marked school; and (b) may extend three hundred (300) feet from the border of the closest school property.”

The Saghalie school zone, however, extends two blocks from the school, or approximately 1,000 feet. It is located on 21st Avenue Southwest.

“The payments that plaintiffs and the class members made to the defendants … for speeding in the Saghalie school zone were induced by fraud and deceit and/or by misrepresentations of rights available to citizens,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs and members of the class lacked knowledge of facts upon which to protest payment and/or made these payments under duress, compulsion, or mistake.”

City spokeswoman Cathy Schrock said the city does not comment on pending litigation and that city officials believe the Saghalie school zone is legal and are “participating in litigating that fact.”

This isn’t the first time city officials have had to defend the Saghalie school zone.

In 2014, municipal court judges Dave Larson and Rebecca Robertson ruled the area in question was a legal school zone after seven defendants challenged their tickets.

The defendants brought a 2013 Federal Way Mirror article with them that reported the city dropped the speeding ticket of Stephen Cramer after he showed the then-pro tem judge a map. The map showed that the middle school was, in fact, more than 1,000 feet from where Cramer was ticketed.

But the judges in the 2014 case said it was legal under state law RCW 46.61.440(1), as there is no provision requiring that the school speed zone be within 300 feet of a school boundary.

In fact, they said the crosswalk was built in 1995 after a child was struck and killed by a car in that area.

In addition to the monetary restitution, the plaintiffs request an injunction ordering the city of Federal Way remove all school zone signs, markings and photo enforcement cameras from the “school zone,” as well as prohibit calling the area a school zone “absent a change in controlling state law that provides for such.”