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Lopez v. Rendered Services, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

July 31, 2019

ROBERTO LOPEZ, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
RENDERED SERVICES, INC., and HECTOR M. LOPEZ, Defendants-Appellants

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 17 M1124511 Honorable Oran F. Whiting, Judge Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: Donald S. Rothschild, Brian M. Dougherty, and Keith R. Krider, of Goldstine, Skrodzki, Russian, Nemec and Hoff, Ltd., of Burr Ridge, for appellants.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Susan Ritacca, of Chicago, for appellee.

          JUSTICE ELLIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Fitzgerald Smith and Justice Howse concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          ELLIS JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff Roberto Lopez sued defendants Rendered Services, Inc. and one of its agents, Hector Lopez, for towing his vehicle in violation of the Illinois Vehicle Code. Plaintiff prevailed at trial. Defendants do not challenge that victory. But they do appeal the award of attorney fees that followed.

         ¶ 2 Plaintiff persuaded the trial court that a provision in Chapter 4 of the Vehicle Code allowed him an award of attorney fees as a prevailing party. Defendants say, first, that the governing portion of the Vehicle Code is Chapter 18a, which does not permit an award of attorney fees. Second, defendants say that even if the provision in Chapter 4 were applicable, on its face it permits an award of attorney fees only against the property owner who initiated the towing of the car, and not the company that performed the towing service.

         ¶ 3 We agree with defendant's second argument and thus need not reach the first. We reverse the award of attorney fees.

         ¶ 4 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 5 Although this case proceeded to a bench trial, defendants did not include a copy of the trial transcript in the record. So some of the facts that follow are drawn from the complaint or the trial court's written order awarding attorney fees, rather than the actual trial evidence. In any event, we have more than a sufficient basis, from the trial court's fee order alone, to resolve this matter.

         ¶ 6 On April 6, 2016, plaintiff parked his vehicle in a private parking lot at 2804 West Flournoy Street in Chicago. Around noon, Larry Chalmers, a person with lawful access to plaintiffs car and who was present at the parking lot, saw a tow truck operated by defendants "drive over the curb" and into the parking lot to begin towing plaintiffs car. Chalmers "stepped in front of the tow truck to present himself and to notify [defendant Lopez] that he was willing and able to relocate the vehicle." But Lopez ignored Chalmers's entreaties and continued on, nearly running Chalmers over in the process.

         ¶ 7 When plaintiff went to defendants' tow yard to get his car, he was told it would not be released unless he paid $218.50. Upon retrieval, plaintiff inspected his car and saw that the front right bumper had been damaged. Plaintiff took the car to a repair shop, which determined that the car had sustained $837.96 in damage.

         ¶ 8 In September 2017, plaintiff filed this lawsuit. Count I was a claim under section 4- 203(f)(3) of the Vehicle Code for "Unlawful Removal of Vehicle." See 625 ILCS 5/4-203(f)(3) (West 2016). His theory was that defendants violated section 4-203(f) by towing away his vehicle even though a permitted user, Chalmers, was present and willing and able to move it. Count II was a claim for conversion. Count III was a claim for detinue.

         ¶ 9 Following a bench trial, the court entered judgment in favor of plaintiff on count I "for the reasons stated in open court." The court granted ...


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