City of Chicago challenges class action status in predatory towing lawsuit
January 18, 2021
The class action status of a predatory towing lawsuit against the city of Chicago is being challenged, another delay for the complaint that was filed in 2019.
In December, the city of Chicago’s petition for appeal was granted by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The city is challenging the class action status of a group of motorists claiming the city practiced predatory towing. A federal district court had granted class action status for two groups in November.
The city first questions whether the plaintiff is actually challenging the constitutionality of the state statute. Rather, the city argues, the lawsuit questions the notification process of the towing statute. Therefore, the complaint has no place in federal court.
Second, the city is challenging the district court’s ruling that individual circumstances within the class are irrelevant in the predatory towing lawsuit. The city of Chicago cites case law where class status was denied based on individual issues overriding common issues.
Although the appeal is pending, the district court has hit the pause button on discovery for the class groups. The city of Chicago argues that if discovery were to continue, it “would lead to confusion among the public should the certification order be reversed, vacated or modified.”
“Any such confusion will undoubtedly be attributed to the city and require the city to spend time and resources fielding complaints and responding to claims based upon this confusion,” attorneys for Chicago state in the motion to stay discovery. “Until there is certainty regarding the certification order, the public and class members should not be notified.”
Also, the city argues that responding to discovery requests regarding predatory towing will require substantial time and expenses.
Those resources will be an unnecessarily lost if the Seventh Circuit just partially rules in the city’s favor. Furthermore, since injunctive relief was denied, there is no harm in delaying discovery while both parties await a definitive ruling on class certification.
The predatory towing lawsuit was filed in July 2019 by Andrea Santiago, a senior citizen with multiple sclerosis who is confined to a wheelchair. Santiago accuses the city of towing her car and eventually selling it for scrap without giving her due process.
Santiago owned a van that was regularly parked on the side of the street for easy access. In June 2018, the van was towed and impounded. The complaint claims that Santiago never received a notice by mail warning her, calling the action “towing without telling.”
The city claims it mailed a post-tow notice of vehicle impoundment on June 15, 2018.
Meanwhile, storage fees were accumulating as Santiago’s daughter attempted to retrieve the van.
The lawsuit alleges that the city never mailed an additional notice of impending vehicle disposal. Such notice is required under state statute. The city sold the van to the towing company, United Road Towing, before Santiago’s daughter was able to locate it. That company then sold it for scrap to a salvage yard.
Santiago never received any of the proceeds from the van’s sale, which also is required by state law.
In 2005, Illinois amended the state’s vehicle code to address predatory towing.
Cities with a population of more than 500,000 people are required to notify motorists that their vehicle has been towed. Santiago’s lawsuit claims Chicago never amended its code to reflect those changes.
For more details about the lawsuit and the 2005 predatory towing legislation, click here.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has a history of battling predatory towing within the trucking industry. Mike Matousek, OOIDA manager of government affairs, has been in the trenches in the fight against predatory towing.
“While the definition of ‘predatory towing’ might vary a bit for cars and trucks, there’s no question commercial motor vehicles are targeted by unscrupulous towing operators,” Matousek told Land Line. “We see it all over the country on a regular basis, which includes predatory booting schemes, legally questionable drive-away tows, and other forms of nonconsensual towing. The Chicago Police Department appears to be going after some of these crooked operators, but more can and must be done – not only in Chicago, but all across the country.” LL