Raul Mas Canosa v. City of Coral Gables

CASE SUMMARY

Coral Gables is an upscale, historic municipality of Miami-Dade County, Florida. Residents take pride in their tree-lined streets and so they call it “City Beautiful.” But the city has now lined the streets with Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs). One resident is not happy about it and is taking the city and the state government to task.

The New Civil Liberties Alliance is suing the City of Coral Gables as well as the Florida Department of State (FDOS) and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), on behalf of long-time Coral Gables resident, Raul Mas Canosa. Mr. Mas Canosa says the city’s use of Automatic License Plate Readers, is a violation of Florida Law and Floridians’ Fourth Amendment rights to privacy.
The ALPR system tracks all vehicle traffic and stores the date for three years. It also allows law enforcement to pore over those records for security purposes, but the City has never identified a single crime that has been solved by this system.

There are currently 30 ALPRs strategically placed at nearly every major artery in the city, including I-95, scanning and recording the license plate number of every vehicle that passes, capturing the registered owner and the time, date and location of the vehicle when it was captured. To date, this single system have collected tens of millions of license plate images.

Aggregated, this data paints a revealing picture about a person. And it does so concerning the hundreds of thousands of people within the ALPR system.

FDLE and FDOS claim to have given permission for cities like Coral Gables to install their ALPR systems. But state administrative agencies cannot authorize such activity on their own initiative without formal administrative rules.

These agencies regulate through guidance, which is not how our government works. Ultimately, only Florida’s legislature has the power to approve the use of ALPRs. Allowing these agencies to police themselves subverts the democratic process entirely. Administrative entities don’t get to decide which constitutional rights Floridians may enjoy and municipalities like Coral Gables can’t hide behind big government.

More fundamentally, the city’s ALPR system purportedly authorized by FDOS and FDLE is simply unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and  Article I, Section 23 of the Florida State Constitution.

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CASE STATUS:
The defendants have moved to dismiss the case, which Mr. Mas Canosa has opposed.

CASE START DATE:
October 5, 2018

DECIDING COURT:
Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade county, FL

ORIGINAL COURT:
Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade county, FL

 

CASE DOCUMENTS

June 2, 2021 | Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment against Defendant Florida Department of Law Enforcement
June 2, 2021 | Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment against Defendant City of Coral Gables
Oct 16, 2019 | Order on Motions to Dismiss
Mar 13, 2019 | Notice of Hearing – Canosa vs. City of Coral Gables

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the following will be called up for hearing before the Honorable Abby Cynamon, Dade County Courthouse, 73 West Flagler Street, Room DCC 817, Miami, Florida 33130, on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, at 2:00 p.m., or as soon thereafter as same can be heard:

DEFENDANT CITY OF CORAL GABLES’ MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED COMPLAINT AND INCORPORATED MEMORANDUM OF LAW

FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE AND FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF STATE’S MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE OR, ALTERNATIVELY, DISMISS FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT

FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT’S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF’S AMENDED COMPLAINT

PLEASE BE GOVERNED ACCORDINGLY.

Read complete Notice Of Hearing.

Jan 18, 2019 | Plaintiff's Response to Defendant Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint

Plaintiff, Raul Mas Canosa, files this response to a motion to dismiss filed by Defendants, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Commissioner Richard L. Swearingen (referred to collectively as FDLE). For the reasons set out below, FDLE has not demonstrated that this
matter should be dismissed…

Click to read the complete document. 

Oct 5, 2018 | Raul Mas Canosa vs. City of Coral Gables, Florida Complaint

PRESS RELEASES

June 2, 2021 | NCLA Asks Miami Court to Stop Coral Gables from Using ALPRs to Violate Drivers’ Privacy Interests

Washington, DC (June 2, 2021) – Raul Mas Canosa, a resident of Coral Gables, Florida, was alarmed when he received 80 pages of documents from the city tracking his vehicle’s movements using Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) installed around the city. Today the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group, filed two motions for summary judgment asking a judge in Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit to rule against the City of Coral Gables and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) over their warrantless collection of personal data in violation of Mr. Mas Canosa’s right to privacy under the constitutions of the State of Florida and the United States.

The images, captured over a 5-month period, show Mr. Mas Canosa going to the supermarket, to the dry cleaner, to doctors’ appointments, to a meeting with a client, to a city commission meeting, and to various other locations across the city. There are 18 ALPR devices located at major intersections and other strategic points throughout Coral Gables. The locations form a perimeter around the city and were selected to encompass the most traffic possible so the system would maximize surveillance potential. These cameras take pictures of license plates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and then store that data for a period of three years. The information gathered by the ALPRs is searchable and available to 68 different law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

The Supreme Court held in Carpenter v. United States that “an individual maintains a legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements as captured through” digital surveillance. Coral Gables’s ALPR system unlawfully aggregates data about Mr. Mas Canosa’s movements over time and impermissibly shares that data with law enforcement without any particularized suspicion.

Constitutional limitations bind FDLE and ensure that the agency cannot bless unlawful intrusions of municipalities into the most private aspects of people’s lives. FDLE’s current Guidelines permit unconstitutional data gathering and dissemination to law enforcement. The collection and storage of over a hundred million data points from ALPRs constitute a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. But the Fourth Amendment forbids monitoring a person’s public movements over time without a warrant. Furthermore, because the city shares that data with police without any requirement for particularized suspicion, the collection of data violates the warrant requirement.

FDLE is also bound by statutory limitations, which require that the agency engage in appropriate notice and comment rulemaking before issuing binding rules to protect the public’s right to advocate for their own interests—particularly when those rules result in the kind of intrusive surveillance seen in this case. FDLE has not adhered to these constitutional and statutory limits, and the Circuit Court should therefore set aside FDLE’s Guidelines as unlawful and terminate the city’s use of ALPRs as unconstitutional.

NCLA released the following statement:

“The indiscriminate surveillance of law-abiding people by the City of Coral Gables is truly breathtaking. That FDLE Guidelines permit this is maddening. The police constantly monitor all drivers who enter the city limits, track their movements for years on end, and actively track innocent people just in case they might commit a crime. This police state is unlawful, and the Court must stop Coral Gables from violating every driver’s civil liberties immediately.”
Caleb Kruckenberg, Litigation Counsel, NCLA

For more information click here to visit the case page and view the video of Mr. Mas Canosa’s story.

ABOUT NCLA

NCLA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group founded by prominent legal scholar Philip Hamburger to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the Administrative State. NCLA’s public-interest litigation and other pro bono advocacy strive to tame the unlawful power of state and federal agencies and to foster a new civil liberties movement that will help restore Americans’ fundamental rights.

Download the full document

Oct 25, 2019 | Florida Judge Greenlights NCLA Lawsuit Alleging Unconstitutional Use of Automatic License Plate Readers

Washington, DC— The Honorable Judge Abby Cynamon of Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit Court submitted an order allowing the New Civil Liberties Alliance to proceed with the lawsuit against the City of Coral Gables, Florida; the Florida Department of State (FDOS); and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), on behalf of Coral Gables resident Raúl Mas Canosa. The lawsuit cites Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) as a violation of Florida law and Floridians’ constitutional rights. Coral Gables uses more than 30 ALPR devices located at major intersections and other strategic points around the city, and police estimate that in 2018 alone the department scanned close to 30 million license plates.

NCLA takes issue with the collection and storage of sensitive license plate information without reasonable limits on the scope of data collected or its use. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids police from constantly monitoring a vehicle’s movements over time without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause. Just as significantly, Article I, Section 23 of the Florida State Constitution protects the ‘right of privacy’ of innocent citizens and limits the State’s collection and use of private information without first making a showing of compelling government interest.

The order filed on October 16, 2019 denied the City of Coral Gables’ motion to dismiss the constitutional and related claims against the defendants’ use of ALPRs. The case will move forward to the discovery phase.

“I am delighted to hear that the court has allowed us to move forward with most of our claims, especially the constitutional argument that Coral Gables’ ALPR surveillance system constitutes a violation of my right to privacy under both the Federal and Florida Constitutions. I am grateful to the judicial system and to the New Civil Liberties Alliance for allowing my voice and my complaint to be taken seriously.”  – Raúl Mas Canosa, Plaintiff

“The defendants’ argued there’s nothing stopping them from tracking all vehicle traffic for years with an ALPR system and then allowing law enforcement to pore over the captured data without any individualized suspicion. We are pleased that Judge Cynamon rightly rejected those arguments. We look forward to vindicating Floridians’ right to privacy in this case.” – Caleb Kruckenberg, NCLA Litigation Counsel

 

ABOUT NCLA 

NCLA is a nonprofit civil rights organization founded by prominent legal scholar Philip Hamburger to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the Administrative State. NCLA’s public-interest litigation and other pro bono advocacy strive to tame the unlawful power of state and federal agencies and to foster a new civil liberties movement that will help restore Americans’ fundamental rights. For more information visit us online: NCLAlegal.org.

Click to read here

Oct 23, 2018 | NCLA Sues City of Coral Gables, Florida Calling Its Use of Automated License Plate Readers ‘Nakedly Unconstitutional’

Washington, DC — The New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) filed a lawsuit against the City of Coral Gables, Florida; the Florida Department of State (FDOS); and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), on behalf of Gables resident Raúl Mas Canosa, citing the city’s Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) as a violation of Florida law and Floridians’ Fourth Amendment rights to privacy.

New Civil Liberties Alliance Litigation Counsel, Caleb Kruckenberg:
“The City’s ALPR system is nakedly unconstitutional. The FDLE never issued formal administrative rules, but rather gave law enforcement carte blanche permission to use ALPR systems, whenever and however it wants. Agencies are supposed to implement the law—not make it—and allowing these agencies to govern themselves subverts the democratic process entirely.”

NCLA takes issue with the collection and storage of sensitive license plate information without reasonable limits on the scope of data collected or its use. Coral Gables uses more than 30 ALPR devices located at major intersections and other strategic points around the city, and police estimate that by the end of 2018 the department will have scanned close to 30 million license plates.

Raúl Mas Canosa, Plaintiff
“I am not opposed to modern technology being used to safeguard our community and identify and capture criminals. Unfortunately, the system that Coral Gables has implemented does not discriminate between innocent citizens and lawbreakers.”

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids police from constantly monitoring a vehicle’s movements over time without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause. Just as significantly, Article I, Section 23 of the Florida State Constitution protects the ‘right of privacy’ of innocent citizens and limits the State’s collection and use of private information without first making a showing of compelling government interest. This means that tracking all vehicle traffic for years with an ALPR system and then allowing law enforcement to pore over the captured data without any individualized suspicion is unlawful.

NCLA demands the FDOS and the FDLE end these unchecked and illegal uses of ALPR cameras and that state courts take action to restore the balance of power to protect the residents of Florida.

ABOUT NCLA
NCLA is a nonprofit civil rights organization founded by prominent legal scholar Philip Hamburger to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the administrative state. NCLA’s public-interest litigation and other pro bono advocacy strive to tame the unchecked power of state and federal agencies and to foster a new civil liberties movement that will help restore Americans’ fundamental rights. For more information visit us online: NCLAlegal.org.

Click to read here

Sep 26, 2019 | NCLA Video Shows Problem with Use of License Plate Readers

Washington, D.C. – Today the New Civil Liberties Alliance released a case video featuring NCLA client Raul Mas Canosa that depicts the serious privacy concerns that surround automatic license plate readers (ALPRs). Canosa’s lawsuit against the City of Coral Gables, Florida, the Florida Department of State and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement challenges the unconstitutional use of ALPRs to track drivers’ movements without probable cause. NCLA argues that the city’s ALPRs violate Florida law and Floridian’s Fourth Amendment rights to privacy under the U.S. Constitution. The video shows how this technology in the hands of government can be dangerous.

Video Excerpts:

 I reached out to the New Civil Liberties Alliance because I realized quite frankly that my own government—the city of Coral Gables—is spying on me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, day and night. And I think that is wrong.”—Raul Mas Canosa, NCLA client

The constitution (of both the United States, and in this case, the state of Florida) is very clear, government can’t follow you around and record your movements when you haven’t done anything wrong. We’re asking this court to prevent the City from operating its system without reasonable and constitutionally appropriate limits.
Caleb Kruckenberg, NCLA Litigation Counsel

We took this case to defend our client’s civil liberties and to set an important precedent about automatic license plate readers and how they can and can’t be used. Part of your privacy, part of liberty, is being able to say [to the government], ‘It’s none of your business.’ But if the government has a record of everywhere they have traveled in the city, then that right is really empty.
Mark Chenoweth, NCLA Executive Director and General Counsel

 

ABOUT NCLA 

NCLA is a nonprofit civil rights organization founded by prominent legal scholar Philip Hamburger to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the Administrative State. NCLA’s public-interest litigation and other pro bono advocacy strive to tame the unlawful power of state and federal agencies and to foster a new civil liberties movement that will help restore Americans’ fundamental rights.

For more information, visit us online: NCLAlegal.org.

Click to read here