Michigan Bicyclist pursues rare appeal of $200 ticket?and claims victory

When a Michigan State Police trooper stopped Tim Panagis during his Sunday morning bicycle ride, Panagis knew from his extensive cycling experience that the officer had it all wrong. So rather than paying the $200 ticket the trooper issued him for impeding traffic, Panagis decided to fight the citation — and he ultimately won.

 The trooper’s dash-cam video was key to proving the officer improperly issued the ticket. The video, recently posted to YouTube, has already gotten nearly 46,000 views. (Click here to watch the video.)
Panagis’ case is garnering national attention, particularly from the cycling community. Not only does the case solidify what the law requires of cyclists, but also demonstrates that police officers do, indeed, make mistakes. The case is also noteworthy because, while cyclists rarely fight a ticket, appealing a civil infraction — and winning — almost never happens.

Panagis is a competitive cyclist who knows bicycling law, which is why he immediately recognized the $200 ticket was improper. The citation charged Panagis with violating MCL 257.676b, which says a person “shall not block, obstruct or impede” the normal flow of vehicle or pedestrian traffic on a street or highway “by means of a barricade, object, or device, or with his or her person.”

Panagis was ticketed when he and three other cyclists were out for a routine bike ride in June 2015. They were riding two abreast. When the trooper spotted them on a rural Livingston County road, he used his PA system to instruct them to ride single file. Panagis and his fellow cyclists complied. When Panagis looked back, he saw the trooper’s patrol car following closely, so with a hand signal (which cyclists routinely use to communicate), Panagis waved the officer to safely pass.

The trooper then ordered Panagis to pull over. Upon approaching Panagis, the trooper noted that Panagis was attempting to pass the others, after he told them to ride single file. He also took issue with Panagis’ hand signal. “Now, that to me, gives me the impression that you want to be a smart aleck,” the trooper said. When Panagis tried to explain the purpose behind the hand signal, the officer said, “Do you know what the law says? [That cyclists must ride] to the right edge of the roadway, not the white line, the right edge of the roadway.” That’s when the trooper ticketed Panagis for impeding traffic.

Lansing attorney Bryan J. Waldman, of the Sinas Dramis Law Firm and a member of the Bike Law Network, took Panagis’ case. A Livingston County District Court judge initially ruled against Panagis.

With the help of Lansing appellate attorney Joel T. Finnell, also of the Sinas Dramis Law Firm, the case was appealed to the Livingston County Circuit Court. Finnell was convinced that Panagis did nothing wrong. As part of the appellate strategy, Finnell broke down the trooper’s dash-cam video into still frames. By doing this, the focus was shifted from Panagis to the trooper, showing that the officer created the situation, and not Panagis.

Livingston County Circuit Judge David J. Reader presided over the matter. At the outset, Judge Reader was surprised the case was even on his docket. “Who appeals a civil infraction?” he asked, calling the appellate brief “a $10,000 brief for a $200 citation.”

 After considering the evidence, Judge Reader ordered the ticket be dismissed. The judge held: 1) Panagis complied with the law by riding as close to the edge of the roadway as practicable; 2) cyclists are permitted to ride two abreast; and 3) pursuant to the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling in Grimes v. Michigan Dep’t of Transportation, the roadway does not include the shoulder and, therefore, Panagis was not required to stay to the right of the white line. Judge Reader also ruled the trooper had a duty to pass the cyclists at a safe distance, but did not do so.

The time to appeal the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals recently expired, with no action taken by the prosecutor.