The city of Wilmington, Delaware, is facing a lawsuit from the Institute for Justice for allowing a private contractor that provides towing services for the city take several residents’ cars and keep them.
The lawsuit charges that the program confiscates from residents property that is worth more that the debts incurred, often for parking tickets, but fails to return the different to the car owners.
“In other words, the city can’t keep a $4,000 car over a $400 debt,” the IJ explained,.
It continued, “Next, the lawsuit challenges the lack of procedural protections provided by the city’s program. The city violates the Fourth Amendment by seizing cars without a warrant and the city violates due process by failing to provide any pre- or post-seizure hearing.”
Then finally, the lawsuit challenges the loss of a car as an excessive fine, as keeping someone’s car over an alleged parking violation is “grossly disproportionate.”
The background is that the city contracts out its municipal impound system to a private company. It pays nothing for the service, but lets the companies “wrongfully take and keep people’s cars.”
Two victims of Wilmington’s tow-and-impound racket, Ameera Shaheed and Earl Dickerson, represented by the Institute for Justice, now have sued.
“The Constitution requires that any penalty imposed by the government be proportional to the crime. The loss of one’s car for ticket debt is unconstitutional,” said IJ Attorney Will Aronin. “People depend on their cars to work, to visit family, and for all parts of their lives. Nobody should lose their car just because they can’t afford to pay a parking ticket.”
Shaheed’s ordeal in came when the city ticketed her “legally parked” car six times in nine days. While her appeal of the wrongfully issued tickets was pending, “the city towed her car and demanded payment in full,” said the IJ.
The disabled grandmother of three could not afford to pay $320 in tickets within 30 days, so First State Towing scrapped her car, worth over $4,000.
Wilmington still is demanding $580 from her.
And when Earl Dickerson, a retired Wilmington grandfather, could not afford to drive much during the pandemic and left his car legally parked on his street, it was ticketed, then towed.
He paid the $60 ticket he was issued in full but the towing company demanded another $910 in “storage fees,” which he couldn’t pay.
The company scrapped his car.
“Wilmington is taking cars without any kind of procedural protections, holding them for ransom, and then refusing even to credit the value of the car toward the supposed ticket debt,” said IJ Senior Attorney Rob Johnson. “No private debt collector could ever get away with that. The city doesn’t get extra leeway to take private property just because it’s the government. To the contrary, we should be holding the government to a higher standard.”
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