CHICAGO—A lawsuit challenging Chicago’s car impound program as unconstitutional will move forward after Federal District Court Judge Mary Rowland rejected several of the city’s requests to dismiss the case. In the spring of 2019, the Institute for Justice (IJ) brought the suit on behalf of five car owners whose vehicles were confiscated by the city for offenses for which they were not responsible. Three claims will continue to be litigated: 1) the city’s scheme violates the Illinois Constitution’s proportionate penalties clause, 2) the city provides inadequate notice that cars have been impounded and will be disposed of, and 3) the city holds cars for ransom until the owners pay all fines and fees even without a judge ruling the owner is liable.
“Chicago’s unjust impound program subjects innocent car owners to sky-high fines and fees,” said IJ Attorney Diana Simpson. “We look forward to continuing to fight on behalf of Chicagoans who have been victimized by the city’s ‘seize first, hearing later’ process.”
Unfortunately, two of IJ’s clients, Veronica Walker-Davis and Jerome Davis, were dismissed from the lawsuit. Their car was towed after Chicago police stopped an auto shop employee who was driving the vehicle on a revoked license. Judge Rowland reasoned that their claims were barred because the Davises reached an agreement with the city to reduce the amount they owed. Unfortunately, the city disposed of their car before the deadline passed.
“The city didn’t keep its end of the bargain we made to get my car back,” said Veronica Walker-Davis. “Now that broken agreement is being used to prevent me from getting justice in the courts. That’s just wrong.”
Chicago did recently reform its impound program, including providing additional protections for innocent owners and reducing fines and fees. Unfortunately, these reforms do not go far enough to end the unconstitutional aspects of the program, and they did not include any attempt to help people whose rights had been violated under the previous program. IJ and its clients seek additional reforms and either the return of their vehicles or compensation for their losses.
“We look forward to continuing to fight for our clients,” said IJ Attorney Kirby West. “Moving into the discovery phase of the suit will give Chicagoans a peek behind the curtain of the city’s impound program. While our lawsuit has prompted important reforms, there is still a long way to go before we can get justice for Windy City car owners.”