Man to Pay $20,000 Legal Fees For Inappropriate Surveillance Camera

By Carlton Purvis, Published Feb 07, 2014, 12:00am EST

This man has been court ordered to pay $20,000 in legal fees over inappropriate surveillance camera use. Was it his fault? Or was it bad advice from the integrator who assisted him? Or is this simply a case of the courts being unreasonable?

In this note, we examine a court case where a regular person with a camera on his house resulted in years of legal fighting and a sizeable financial fee.

The Case

The problems started when Joel Toler put up a PTZ on his property. His neighbors say the camera could see common areas of his subdivision, but also into people’s homes. Neighbors were “annoyed and disturbed because they felt their private activities were being watched,” according to court documents. The Spurs Ranch Owner’s Association in American Canyon, California and neighbors filed a complaint against Toler which was dismissed after they came to a settlement agreement.

In a nine-hour meeting on June 22, 2009, the parties agreed that Toler’s camera would be “mechanically restricted and shielded so that it views only the front gate portion of [Toler's] property and cannot view any of the neighbors' residence [sic]." The agreement gave him 30 days to fix the problem.

A month later, neighbors say Toler had not taken any steps to shield the camera. Opposing lawyers provided the court photos from different dates of the camera without shielding on it.

Toler, however, had made and effort to restrict the camera’s field of view. He provided the court with a receipt from his local integrator, Super Electric, Inc. describing performed work on the camera as “inspect and adjust camera located at south east corner of property. Restricted movement of camera travel from 360°—270° eliminating the view of the Toler-Dostal property line."

Despite that, the court ruled that the modification did not constitute “shielding” and that Toler had breached the terms of the settlement. He was ordered to pay attorney’s fees.

Why Did He Lose?

Toler fixed the camera so it wasn’t looking at his neighbors anymore, but the court still determined he breached the settlement by not following its exact wording. The settlement said the camera’s field of view was to be restricted, and it was to be shielded. It's questionable how much shielding the camera would have done to restrict the field of view.

In February 2010, he filed a motion to reconsider with testimony from his integrator. The integrator said Toler had requested a shield, but he told him that with the camera on a high pole, the wind hitting against a shield would interfere with its autofocus feature. The integrator suggested that instead they only use pins to limit the field of view of the camera. It’s not clear whether the integrator knew the work he was doing was part of a court settlement, but that’s probably something that should have been disclosed.

Oppposing lawyers argued successfully “that it was clear on the face of the settlement that the camera had to be both mechanically restricted and shielded.”

Toler took down the camera altogether and now it sits in his garage "where it now views nothing." The final attorney’s fees Toler was ordered to pay: $20,000.

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