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Lintzeris v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 3, 2017

Rita Lintzeris, Zaron Jossell, and Clarence Daniels, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
City of Chicago, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiffs bring a putative class action against the City of Chicago and city officials to challenge the imposition of administrative penalties on impounded vehicle owners under Chicago municipal code. Defendants move to dismiss for failure to state a claim. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

         I. Legal Standards

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain factual allegations that plausibly suggest a right to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). The court must accept all factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, but need not accept legal conclusions or conclusory allegations. Id. at 678-79.

         II. Background

         Plaintiffs Rita Lintzeris, Zaron Jossell, and Clarence Daniels each had their car impounded by the City of Chicago and were required to pay administrative penalties ranging between $2, 000 and $4, 000 in order to reclaim their vehicles. In April 2016, Lintzeris's son borrowed her car, was involved in an accident, and was arrested by Chicago police offers for allegedly driving while intoxicated and possessing drugs. The police seized and impounded Lintzeris's car, pursuant to the Municipal Code of Chicago § 2-14-132 (the City's impoundment ordinance).[1] The ordinance authorizes seizure and impoundment of vehicles for vehicle-related violations of Chicago ordinances. MCC § 2-14-132(a)(1); [24] ¶ 34. The impoundment ordinance also imposes an administrative penalty on the owner of an impounded vehicle because it was used in a vehicle-related violation. MCC § 2-14-132(a)(1); [24] ¶ 33. The amount of the administrative penalty varies depending on the underlying violation. MCC § 2-14-132(a)(1).

         About two days after the accident, Lintzeris paid the City $4, 210 to reclaim her car, including $4, 000 in administrative penalties, $150 for towing, and $60 for two days of storage. Four months later, Lintzeris appeared at an administrative hearing to contest the administrative penalty. Her counsel argued that the impoundment ordinance was facially invalid because it violated 625 ILCS 5/11-208.7 of the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code (enacted in 2012) and required a vehicle owner to pay a fine. (625 ILCS 5/11-208.7 provides rules regarding fees and municipal ordinances covering the impoundment of vehicles.) The presiding administrative law judge advised that he could not consider counsel's arguments because under MCC § 2-14-132 and the City's Department of Administrative Hearings, a vehicle owner could present only certain defenses to impoundment: (1) the vehicle was stolen and the theft timely reported to law enforcement, (2) the vehicle was operating as a common carrier and the violation occurred without the knowledge of the person in control of the vehicle, or (3) the vehicle had been donated, traded-in, or sold to another person prior to the violation.

         In August 2016, Jossell was driving and arrested for allegedly possessing drugs. His vehicle was seized and impounded. About five days later, he paid $2, 250 to reclaim his car, including a $2, 000 administrative penalty, $150 for towing, and a $100 storage fee. At his administrative hearing two months later, Jossell was represented by counsel, who attempted to challenge the ordinance for the same reasons as Lintzeris but was not successful. In December 2016, Daniels was arrested for allegedly driving while intoxicated, and his car was seized and impounded. He needed to pay an administrative penalty of $2, 000 to reclaim his car, but he did not have the funds and never reclaimed his car. Daniel alleges that he was not given notice of the date, time, or location of his administrative hearing and that a default judgment was entered against him by the City's Department of Administrative Hearings.

         Plaintiffs brought this putative class action on behalf of themselves and a purported class of people who paid administrative penalties under the City's impoundment ordinance, MCC § 2-14-132. [1]. Defendants moved to dismiss, [13], and the plaintiffs responded by amending their complaint to include Daniels as a named plaintiff and additional state-law counts. [21]; [24]. Plaintiffs sue the City of Chicago, the City's Commissioner for the Department of Streets and Sanitation, the Director of the Department of Administrative Hearings, and the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department in their official capacities, challenging the impoundment ordinance under the Fourth Amendment (Count I), the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause (Count II), and the Illinois Constitution's Due Process Clause (Count III). The plaintiffs also bring state-law counts for declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, unjust enrichment and restitution, constructive trust, conversion, and conspiracy (Counts IV though IX). Defendants move to dismiss all claims.

         III. Analysis

         A. Fourth Amendment Claim

         Plaintiffs bring a Fourth Amendment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that every impoundment under MCC § 2-14-132 constitutes a per se unreasonable seizure and that the ordinance exceeds the legal authority granted to the City by the state of Illinois and under the U.S. Constitution. Defendants seek dismissal of this claim, asserting that impoundment under the ordinance is not an “unreasonable” seizure under the Fourth Amendment and that the plaintiffs cannot base a Fourth Amendment challenge on an alleged state-law violation.

         Plaintiffs mount a facial challenge under the Fourth Amendment, meaning that they assume the burden of establishing that the impoundment ordinance is unconstitutional in all of its applications.[2] Bell v. City of Chicago, 835 F.3d 736, 738 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing City of Los Angeles v. Patel, ___U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 2443, 2451 (2015)). These challenges are the most difficult to mount successfully, and the proper inquiry under this exacting standard should be only on applications of the statute in which it actually authorizes or prohibits conduct. Id. (citing Patel, 135 S.Ct. at 2449, 2451). The Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable” searches and seizures, and warrantless seizures are generally unreasonable, although there are exceptions. Id. at 739 (citing Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 330 (2001)).

         In Bell v. City of Chicago, 835 F.3d 736 (7th Cir. 2016), the Seventh Circuit upheld the City's impoundment ordinance against a facial challenge based on the Fourth Amendment. When plaintiffs bring a facial challenge, the plaintiffs must demonstrate that the ordinance is unconstitutional in all its actual applications. Id. at 739 (citing Patel, 135 S.Ct. at 2451). Bell held that the plaintiff failed to state a facial challenge under the Fourth Amendment because MCC § 7-24-225-one of the vehicle-related violation ordinances associated with the general impoundment ordinance, § 2-14-132-requires the officer seizing the vehicle without a warrant to have probable cause to believe the vehicle has illegal drugs in it or has been used in an illegal drug transaction. Id. at 740. More generally as relevant here, the impoundment ordinance requires the police to have probable cause that an enumerated offense (in which the vehicle was used in an illegal manner or in connection with an illegal act) occurred. Id. at 739. In these circumstances, there was no difference between the warrantless seizures authorized by the ordinance and those permitted by the Supreme Court, and therefore seizures authorized by § 2-14-132 were not facially invalid. Id. at 740. Just as the plaintiffs in Bell failed to establish a facial challenge to § 2-14-132, here the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that the ordinance is “is unconstitutional in all its actual applications, including its application ...

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