AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability
of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel


Back to list of subjects             Back to Legal Publications Menu

Miscellaneous: Towing

     The owner of a truck sued a towing company for allegedly wrongfully holding onto his truck for 38 days and requiring him to pay $1,385 to get it back. The sheriff's department's decision to impound, tow, and store the truck was reasonable under the community caretaking doctrine. The "sheriff's department's impounding of the truck did not violate plaintiff's right to travel, was not an unreasonable seizure, and did not misapply the Vehicle Code to his noncommercial use of the truck." The plaintiff lacked registration for his light truck and did not have a driver's license, and the fact that he did not use his truck to transport people or property for hire did not exempt him from applicable licensing laws. Halajian v. D&B Towing, #F063071, 209 Cal. App. 4th 1, 2012 Cal. App. Lexis 949 (Cal. App. 5th Dist.).
      Federal constitutional due process did not require a city to provide advance notice each time it towed one of the plaintiff's trailers. Additionally, the mere fact that the city's towing practices allegedly violated applicable California state law did not qualify as establishing a claim for violation of federal civil rights. Lone Star Sec. & Video, Inc. v. Los Angeles, #07-56521, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 23016 (9th Cir.).
     A vehicle owner's claim that the towing of his vehicle violated state law failed to raise a federal civil rights claim, so that summary judgment for the plaintiff in a federal civil rights lawsuit had to be overturned on appeal. Lone Star Security & Video, Inc. v. Los Angeles, No. 07-56521, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 15280 (9th Cir.).
     A county sheriff could not be sued, on the basis of his role as supervisor of deputies who arrived on the scene after FBI agents arrested the plaintiff for bank robbery, and impounded the getaway car, resulting in the impound lot later selling the vehicle after sending the arrestee a notice and publicly posting one. Even if the deputies were found to have violated the plaintiff's rights, the sheriff did not personally participate in, authorize, or acquiesce in their actions. The court also rejected the argument that the impounding of the vehicle under these circumstances constituted conversion since a law enforcement officer may tow and impound a vehicle following a driver's arrest for bank robbery or similar offenses. Eaton v. Whetsel, No. 07-6262, 2008 U.S. App. Lexis 11367 (Unpub. 10th Cir.).
     While a city's municipal code did not authorize the seizure of the plaintiff's three unregistered vehicles, the inapplicability of the ordinance in question was not clearly established so that officers were entitled to qualified immunity for having the vehicles towed. Private companies involved in the towing were entitled to a defense of good faith when they acted at police direction and had no reason to believe that the seizure of the vehicles was improper. Tarantion v. Syputa, No. 06-16178, 2008 U.S. App. Lexis 6718 (9th Cir.).
     City and towing company did not violate the rights of a motorist by placing a "boot" on her car, and having it towed and impounded from its location in a condominium building's parking area after the motorist failed to pay certain parking tickets. The vehicle owner had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the parking area because it was shared in common with other occupants of the building. The seizure of the vehicle under the circumstances was authorized by an Illinois state statute, and the plaintiff did not claim that the established procedures for such seizures were violated. Police officers had probable cause to believe that the car was subject to impounding, and the applicable law did not require a warrant to boot and tow the vehicle. Kosyla v. City of Des Plaines, No. 06-2032, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 28034 (7th Cir.).
     In lawsuit over city's towing of apparently abandoned or junked vehicle from vacant lot, neither the lot owner nor his brother, who claimed he had an ownership interest in the car, had a valid federal civil rights claim. The lot owner's privacy rights were not violated by the towing, and his brother had no identifiable ownership interest in the vehicle which was sufficient to have put the city on notice that he claimed ownership. Benton v. City of Higginsville, No. WD 64861, 181 S.W.3d 190 (Mo. App. 2005). [N/R]
    Impoundment of car from the owners' driveway after an officer observed the husband teaching his unlicensed wife how to drive was an unreasonable seizure unjustified by the "community caretaking" doctrine. Summary judgment for city and towing company in lawsuit was improper. Miranda v. City of Cornelius, No. 04-35940, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 24666 (9th Cir.). [2006 LR Jan]
     Towing service operator failed to show that new sheriff modified his towing area in retaliation for his support of another candidate for sheriff, or that the sheriff and his undersheriff engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity in violation of RICO in connection with maintenance of a list of favored tow service operators. Roger Whitmore's Auto. Serv. v. Del Re, #04-1978, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 20296 (7th Cir.). [2005 LR Nov]
     Truck owners "conclusory" allegations that the county and the company which towed his vehicle were engaged in a "conspiracy" to operate a "shakedown racket" and deprive truckers of their property was insufficient to state a federal civil rights claim. Hansel v. All Gone Towing Co., No. 04-14710, 132 Fed. Appx. 308 (11th Cir. 2005). [N/R]
     Vehicle towing company could not recover damages under Illinois state law against city and its mayor for their alleged request to the owner of a private parking lot to cease doing business with them and switch to a local towing company. The alleged action by the mayor was a "discretionary act" for which immunity was available under the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10/1-101 et seq. Kevin's Towing, Inc. v. Thomas, No. 2-03-1118, 814 N.E.2d 1003 (Ill. App. 2nd Dist. 2004).[N/R]
     Owner of auto which was impounded for evidentiary purposes and retained on condition that he pay towing and storage fees could not pursue civil rights claim to regain his auto when he failed to show that available state-law remedies were inadequate, violating his due process rights. Plaintiff did, however, have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the city's action in spray-painting his vehicle after 30-days of impoundment, as statute under which it was done only applied to abandoned, lost, stolen or unclaimed cars which the city had a right to dispose of. Lee v. City of Chicago, No. 02-1503, 330 F.3d 456 (7th Cir. 2003). [N/R]
     Placing parking tickets on illegally parked cars was sufficient to provide due process notice to vehicle owner of the claimed parking violations and of the fact that accumulating three unpaid and unappealed such tickets could result in the placing of an immobilizing "wheel boot" on the auto. Plaintiff showed, however, that the city failed to provide a "meaningful opportunity" to be heard before or after the placement of such a "boot" on his car, since the tickets did not explain how to contest the validity of the placement or explain how and when the "boot" could be removed. Individual defendants, however, including the city's mayor, a police officer, and a parking monitor, were entitled to qualified immunity from liability because the law in the area of "wheel booting" was not clearly established. Gross v. Carter, 265 F. Supp. 2d 995 (W.D. Ark. 2003). [N/R]
     Federal appeals court upholds denial of permit to operate tow truck under a municipal regulation making persons with convictions of specified criminal offenses, documented mental illnesses or unsafe driving records ineligible for a permit. Cole v. City of Dallas, #01-10194, 314 F.3d 730 (5th Cir. 2002). [N/R]
     Sheriff's department did not violate the due process rights of the operator of a towing service by removing his company from a rotation list. Despite company's seventeen years of service, it had no property interest in being on the tow rotation list, and internal departmental rules establishing a policy of removing companies only for "sufficient cause" did not create a property interest because they were not required by statute or ordinance. Plaintiff operator also did not establish a First Amendment violation based on his argument that the removal was in retaliation for his public criticism of the rotation system. S&S Research, Inc. v. Paulszcyk, No. 01-2456, 44 Fed. Appx. 744 (7th Cir. 2002).[N/R]
     Overturning trial court's grant of summary judgment for defendant city in motorist's federal civil rights lawsuit, appeals court also holds that the motorist was not entitled, as a matter of due process. to cross-examine the officer who issued the towing order, but that the city had the burden, under California law, of demonstrating that the seizure of the car was valid. David v. City of Los Angeles, #00-57091, 307 F.3d 1143 (9th Cir. 2002). [N/R]
     Florida statute allowing a county to operate a wrecker operator system did not give a county sheriff authority to establish a system under which towing companies would rotate in providing services at the site of a wreck or to threaten arrests of tow company's employees for allegedly soliciting business at the scene of a wreck when the county board had never adopted the sheriff's rules by a formal vote. Rebel Enterprises, Inc. v. Palm Beach Sheriff, #01-15738, 299 F.3d 1261 (11th Cir. 2002). [N/R]
     A city's delay in setting a hearing date for a number of weeks after a motorist's car was towed for alleged parking violations, despite the owner's "insistent and immediate" demand for a hearing violated both a California state statute, Ann. Cal. Vehicle Code Sec. 22852, and constitutional due process, as clearly established twenty-five years before in Stypmann v. City & County of San Francisco, 557 F.2d 1338 (9th Cir. 1977).
     Business owners were entitled to notice and an opportunity to be heard before their vehicle was towed from a private residential property. Redwood v. Lierman, No. 4-01-0612, 772 N.E.2d 803 (Ill. App. 4th Dist. 2002). [N/R]
      Owner of unregistered auto not entitled to notice or hearing before vehicle is towed Scofield v. City of Hillsborough, 862 F2d 759 (9th Cir. 1988).

Back to list of subjects             Back to Legal Publications Menu