Potential Phone-y Premise for Lawsuit
by Ron Davis
A shopping center in New York State became the focal point of a challenge to that state’s law banning the use of a cellular phone while operating a vehicle on a public highway.
The shopping center is Community Corners in Cayuga Heights, and the challenge to that recently enacted New York law occurred when a police officer stopped a driver in the Community Corners parking lot.
The officer spotted him using a cellular phone while passing through the parking lot and gave him a ticket for the alleged offense. In response, the driver didn’t dispute his use of the phone while in the shopping center parking lot. He simply argued that the law he supposedly violated specifically bans operating a vehicle while using a cellular phone “upon a public highway.” The driver pointed out that the Community Corners shopping center is privately owned. Moreover, the arresting officer admitted that he did not observe the driver using the phone before entering or after leaving the shopping center parking lot.
On the basis of the wording of the law, a New York court dismissed the charge against the driver. Explained the judge, “While shopping center parking lots appear to be open to the public and, thus, loosely fit into the public highway definition as a ‘public place,’ they really are not public. Private shopping center parking lots exist for the benefit of the private owners…. A privately owned and controlled shopping center’s parking lot therefore does not fit within the definition of a public highway.”
The judge added, however, “The [state] legislature could, and probably should, have included parking lots within its prohibition for contemporaneous telephone and motor vehicle use, but by specifically limited the law to ‘public highways,’ the legislature excluded application of the law to other locations, such as the parking lot in this case.” (People v. Moore, 2003 WL 21543532 [N.Y. Co.Ct.])
Decision: July 2003
Published: August 2003