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Pioneer Towing, Inc. v. Commerce Com.

OPINION FILED AUGUST 14, 1981.

PIONEER TOWING, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

ILLINOIS COMMERCE COMMISSION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR L. DUNNE, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE LORENZ DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied September 4, 1981.

Plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment action challenging the constitutionality of section 18a-200(3) of the Illinois Commercial Relocation of Trespassing Vehicles Law (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 95 1/2, par. 18a-200) (the Act). The statute as amended by Public Acts 81-332 and 81-333, places a $35 per tow ceiling on the rates that the Illinois Commerce Commission (Commission) can set for the commercial towing or removal of trespassing vehicles from private property. The trial court, upon stipulation of facts, found that the statute was a valid exercise of the legislature's authority, and therefore dismissed Pioneer's complaint. Plaintiff appeals, contending that the statute is an unconstitutional exercise of legislative power which is confiscatory (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 15), deprives it of property without due process of law (U.S. Const. amend. XIV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2), and constitutes special legislation (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 13).

The stipulated facts at the trial court were basically as follows.

Plaintiff is a towing company which has performed services since January 1, 1979, for about 600 real estate owners in the City of Chicago. Its sole income is generated from towing and storage charges collected from vehicle owners who have trespassed on the private property of those customers with whom plaintiff has contracted.

On January 17, 1979, the Commission set interim maximum rates for relocation towers at $35 per tow and $3 per day in storage charges for vehicles left on the relocator's premises in excess of 72 hours. In response to these rates, plaintiff reduced the salaries of its five drivers. After the reduction, three drivers left plaintiff's employ, two definitely because of the reduction. Plaintiff was then forced to return the remaining driver's pay to its previous level in order to keep its business operating.

Plaintiff filed a verified petition with the Commission on May 16, 1979, requesting an emergency interim rate increase which would allow it to charge $60 per tow. It claimed that the $35 existing maximum rate allowance was confiscatory and placed the company in dire financial straits. From January 17, 1979, until the end of the year, only two towing companies applied for rates higher than the interim maximum rates.

After extensive investigation and hearings, the Commission issued an order of July 19, 1979, finding that plaintiff should be allowed to charge a "just and reasonable" rate of $45 per tow. Based on an estimate of 7,300 cars towed, plaintiff's operating cost per tow was found to be approximately $44.25. For the year ending December 31, 1979, 9,156 trespassing vehicles were actually towed to plaintiff's premises.

As a result of the amendment in question, plaintiff will be forced to reduce its rates. And if it again lowers the drivers' wages, they will quit. The Commission must approve the replacement for these employees, a procedure taking three to four weeks. Consequently, the company's business will be negatively affected.

Subsequent to the passage of the amendment to section 18a-200 of the Act imposing the $35 rate ceiling, but before its effective date, the Commission reopened plaintiff's case for hearing. At that time, plaintiff was the only towing company operating under the Act with the right to collect more than $35 per tow. On the effective date of the amendment, plaintiff likewise was the only company authorized to collect such a charge.

OPINION

Plaintiff's sole contention is that the amendment to section 18a-200 of the Act establishing the $35 per tow ceiling is unconstitutional. The amended section reads as follows:

"The Commission shall:

(3) Set reasonable rates, not to exceed $35, for the commercial towing or removal of trespassing vehicles from private property." (Emphasis added.) (Ill. Rev. ...


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