The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a controversial ordinance enacted by the city of Sandy Springs, Georgia that fines alarm companies for false alarms generated by their customers.
The Georgia Electronic Life Safety & Systems Association (GELSSA), A-Com Security Co. LLP and Safecom Security Solutions Inc. were the plaintiffs in the case. The legal challenge was organized by the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) which has managed all aspects of the effort, from hiring the law firm to raising funds. The original challenge to the law was rejected by a lower federal court in 2018. Industry attorneys are currently reviewing the ruling to determine what, if any, next steps are appropriate.
GELSSA and the alarm company plaintiffs argued that this civil fine scheme was not rationally related to a legitimate government interest, and therefore unconstitutional, because alarm companies are not in a position to supervise, direct or control the actions of their customers.
The 11th Circuit judges disagreed stating, “As we see it, it is entirely rational for the city to penalize alarm companies for the false alarms of their customers.” The court reasoned that alarm companies could educate their customers, pass along fines or stop serving chronic abusers, and that it does not violate due process to hold them vicariously liable for the misconduct of their customers.
“Even after it started fining alarm companies, Sandy Springs continued to impose additional punitive measures on the 80 percent of the community that depends on alarm systems to protect life and property,” said Stan Martin, SIAC executive director. “The Sandy Springs ordinance is also among the most punitive in the nation with excessive fines, even when a dispatch is canceled and the requirement of some type of verification before police will be dispatched.”
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.
“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.
“SIAC continues working closely with law enforcement agencies throughout the country to promote the model ordinance it helped create in partnership with leaders in the law enforcement community,” Martin said. “When you consider that the cost of fighting a single bad ordinance can easily run into the six figures, supporting SIAC’s work at the local and national level remains a wise investment.
“Extreme proposals such as fining alarm companies or requiring verification before police will respond to alarms is not on the table when a community is reducing unnecessary dispatches using the model ordinance. More than 1,000 communities nationwide are currently using the principles of the model ordinance and that number continues to grow steadily each year.”