Brick business sues Little Rock over false-alarm fees

Posted: November 6, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

A block and brick company has filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Little Rock over an ordinance that imposes fees on repeated false alarms.

The 18-page lawsuit, filed in the Pulaski County Circuit Court last week, argues that the city's False Alarm Reduction Ordinance is unconstitutionally vague and fails to provide due process of law under the Arkansas Constitution.

The ordinance, which took effect at the beginning of 2006, places fines on customers after a certain number of false alarms. Customers also face fines for repeated alarm cancellations, in which emergency services are dispatched but the alarm is canceled before the authorities arrive on the scene. According to the ordinance, the fees were a way to improve public safety by reducing the number of emergency responses to false alarms.

ABC Block Co. filed the class-action lawsuit last week on behalf of itself and any customers charged a fine, an appeal fee or other financial penalties under the ordinance during the past three years. The complaint said the number of class members will exceed 1,000.

Besides the city of Little Rock, the lawsuit lists Police Chief Kenton Buckner and Fire Chief Gregory Summers as defendants in the lawsuit, along with Public Safety Corporation Inc., which the complaint says became the city's alarm administrator in the fall of 2015.

The alarm administrator, the lawsuit said, is tasked with enforcing the ordinance. The complaint states that the corporation is based out of state and is not authorized to conduct business in Arkansas.

The lawsuit argues the ordinance "is so vague and standardless it allows for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement." Under the ordinance, Summers and Buckner are allowed to decide what is a false alarm and the proper level of response -- factors that can affect the amount of fees, according to the lawsuit.

The litigation argues that the ordinance does not stipulate when the alarm administrator must inform a customer of a fee, even though "the False Alarm Ordinance places strict time requirements on anyone who wants to appeal a fine."

Under the ordinance, customers began to pay a civil penalty when four false alarms occur in a calendar year. Civil penalties also began for customers after the fourth alarm cancellation. The city rule also outlines a fee for customers operating a non-permitted alarm system, and defines a fee for false alarms caused by an installation service.

The fees, according to the complaint, pushes responsibility onto alarm customers and can punish them for false alarms caused by natural occurrences, such as a lightning storm.

The complaint also argues that the ordinance does not provide due process, stating that there is no "adequate definition" for a false alarm and the ordinance "never even identifies who makes the determination if a false alarm occurred."

The ordinance did create a False Alarm Appeals Panel for customers to appeal a decision made by the alarm administrator. Yet the lawsuit asserts that there are no standards to inform alarm customers of what they must prove or disprove to the panel.

Metro on 11/06/2017