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Celso Robledo, Maria Robledo, Manuel v. City of Chicago

April 6, 2011

CELSO ROBLEDO, MARIA ROBLEDO, MANUEL ROBLEDO, WALTER KOPEC, AND JEFFREY MARTIN, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case has proceeded down a long and sinuous trajectory since its inception more than six years ago, when plaintiffs sued the City on behalf of a class, alleging constitutional and state law violations arising out of the disposition of their vehicles pursuant to the City's policy of progressive penalties for parking infractions. Plaintiffs contend that the final step in the City's "boot-tow-disposition" policy (the "Policy"), in which vehicles whose owners have not paid outstanding fines, fees, and costs associated with parking violations are sold or otherwise disposed of, violates their procedural due process rights and is irreconcilable with Illinois' law of takings and bailment.*fn1 The constitutional theory plaintiffs invoke has evolved over time, and the pending cross-motions for summary judgment reflect a very different due process claim than the one I concluded withstood the City's attacks at previous stages of this litigation. For the reasons discussed below, their present constitutional claim cannot survive summary judgment. I therefore grant the City's motion as to this claim. In addition, because it is clear from the record that plaintiffs' state law claims cannot survive, I enter judgment for the City on these claims as well. Plaintiffs' summary judgment motion is denied in its entirety.

I.

The material facts in the case are undisputed, though the parties focus on very different portions of the record. Naturally, plaintiffs emphasize the tribulations the named plaintiffs endured in their late-stage attempts to secure the release of their impounded vehicles---ordeals that culminated in the discovery that their vehicles had been "disposed of" (which, to be clear, is the City's generic phrase for sold or destroyed). The City, meanwhile, focuses on the long series of events leading up to the impoundment of these vehicles: serial parking violations giving rise to numerous ignored tickets (as many as twenty-four in the Robledos' case), and repeated warnings, also unheeded, about the consequences of accumulating unpaid, uncontested parking violations. More on these facts later; first, a description of the City's Policy.

Pursuant to the City's Policy for the administrative adjudication of violations of parking ordinances, which is set forth in the Municipal Code of Chicago § 9-100-010 et. seq., the City imposes progressive penalties for parking infractions. The process begins when notice of a parking violation (i.e., a "ticket") is affixed to the offending vehicle. The ticket itself informs the vehicle's owner of the nature of the violation, as well as of the owner's right to challenge the violation at an administrative hearing. The ticket also informs the owner that she has fourteen days in which to pay the ticket or to request a hearing, and that failure to take one of these actions will result in a determination of liability against her. Notice of any resulting determination of liability is then sent to the owner via first class mail. That notice informs the owner of a further opportunity to request a hearing to petition the City to set aside the determination of liability.

After a vehicle owner has incurred three final determinations of liability for parking violations, a notice of "impending vehicle immobilization" is sent to the owner, which identifies the underlying, unpaid parking violations, and which informs the owner that failure to pay the fines and penalties associated with these violations within twenty-one days will result in the placement of the ticketed vehicle (or other vehicles registered to the owner) on an "immobilization list." This notice also states that the owner may request a hearing to challenge the impending immobilization. In the event a vehicle is actually immobilized (i.e., "booted"), another notice is affixed to the vehicle that again informs the owner of her right to request a hearing to challenge immobilization. After a vehicle is booted, the owner has twenty-four hours to pay (or successfully to challenge at a hearing) the underlying violations; otherwise, the City directs a third party---an entity the parties refer to for the purposes of this litigation as "United Towing"---to tow and impound the vehicle.

Once a vehicle is impounded, the City sends an Impoundment Notice to the owner via certified mail within two or three days.*fn2

The information provided in this Impoundment Notice has been amended during the pendency of this lawsuit. At the time of filing, the notice stated, among other things, that "[t]o secure the release of the vehicle, the registered owner or his authorized agent must appear at the pound location listed above and present (1) a certificate of title or current state license registration card documenting ownership and (2) a release order which may be obtained at the Office of the Department of Revenue at any of the following locations. ..." Pl.'s SOF, Exh. F at RB000095. The Impoundment Notice also provided (and still provides) a telephone number at which additional information could be obtained, and informed (and still informs) the owner that he or she was entitled to an administrative hearing to determine whether the immobilization, towing, or impoundment was erroneous. Id. The final paragraph of the Impoundment Notice as it existed at the outset of this litigation stated, "[f]ailure to claim an impounded vehicle within 15 days of the date of this notice may result in the sale or other disposition of the vehicle and its contents, as provided in Section 4-208 of the Illinois Vehicle Code."

In October of 2007,*fn3 the Impoundment Notice was revised in at least three respects. First, the fifteen day window in which an owner could claim her vehicle was changed to twenty-one days. Second, the instructions for securing the release of impounded vehicles were amended to state: "the registered owner or his authorized agent must appear at the pound location listed above and claim the vehicle by presenting (1) a certificate of title or current state license registration card documenting ownership and (2) a release order receipt which may be obtained by paying all outstanding fines and penalties for parking and/or compliance violations and all immobilization, impoundment and storage fees, at the Office of the Department of Revenue at any of the following locations" (italics used to show revisions). Third, the revised Impoundment Notice stated that "[t]he registered owner may request one extension of 15 additional days before a vehicle is sold or disposed." Pl.'s SOF, Exh. F at RB000991.

The City does not attempt to acquire title to vehicles disposed of pursuant to its Policy prior to disposition. And the parties agree that regardless of any interest an owner may assert in an impounded vehicle, she must pay the City all fines, penalties, and fees arising out of delinquent parking tickets and the City's subsequent enforcement measures in their entirety to avoid disposition of the vehicle. In the event a vehicle owner believes her car was wrongly disposed of, she may, after the fact, file a claim for damages with the City Clerk's office.*fn4

The foregoing description of the City's Policy is undisputed. It is likewise undisputed that the named plaintiffs' cars were disposed of pursuant to this Policy. In addition, the parties relate (or, in a few instances, I have gleaned from the record) the facts below, which are undisputed except where noted.

The Robledos

Plaintiffs recount that the Robledos were out of the country at the time their van was impounded on July 9, 2004. Although their adult son called the City in their absence, seeking information about the vehicle, he was told that the van would not be released to him. When Celso Robledo, upon his return, went to the City Department of Revenue on July 15, 2004, he tendered $400 and sought to enter into a payment plan for the remainder of the balance owing. The City accepted the $400 but declined to offer the Robledos a payment plan or to release the van. On or around the following day, the City sent a Notice of Impoundment to the Robledos, which contained the standard language used at that time, including that, "[f]ailure to claim an impounded vehicle within 15 days of the date of this notice may result in the sale or other disposition of the vehicle and its contents, as provided in Section 4-208 of the Illinois Vehicle Code." As far as the record shows, the Robledos had no further contact with the City regarding their impounded van. The Robledos' van was sold for approximately $150 on either July 31, 2004, or August 5, 2004 (the record is inconsistent, but the discrepancy is immaterial), pursuant to a contract between the City and United Towing.

In November of the same year, the City immobilized, towed, and impounded another vehicle belonging to the Robledos pursuant to the Policy. After the Robledos paid their entire parking ticket debt of $3,070---which did not include any credit for the value of the Robledos' previously sold van---on November 30, 2004, that vehicle was released.

The City, for its part, states that at the time Celso and Maria Robledo's impounded van was sold, they had accumulated a debt of $2,460 for unpaid final determinations of liability on approximately twenty-four uncontested tickets issued to them for a variety of infractions over the course of roughly thirteen-and-a-half years.

Celso Robledo received, but did not understand, the Impoundment Notice mailed to him on July 16, 2004. By the time their second vehicle was booted, towed, and impounded, the Robledos had received another ticket, on October 19, 2004. That ticket remained unpaid until the Robledos paid the ...


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