WILMINGTON, Del.—A lawsuit against Wilmington, Delaware’s abusive towing scheme will move forward after a federal district court ruled against the city’s attempt to dismiss the case. In September 2021, two victims of Wilmington’s tow-and-impound racket, Ameera Shaheed and Earl Dickerson, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), filed a lawsuit seeking to bring an end to Wilmington’s unconstitutional impound system.
“This is a great decision, and we can’t wait to get the city and the towing companies under oath at deposition,” said IJ Attorney Will Aronin. “Wilmington empowered these companies to keep and scrap thousands of cars in exchange for running the city’s impound program. That’s unconstitutional and today’s victory brings us one huge step closer to shutting the system down for good.”
Wilmington contracts out its municipal impound system to private towing companies and funds the whole system by letting these companies wrongfully take and keep people’s cars. The city pays these companies nothing for their services, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The price of Wilmington’s “cost-free” impound services falls squarely on vehicle owners in Wilmington, who are at risk of losing their cars to an impound system that profits off scrapping the cars they tow.
U.S. District Judge Colm F. Connolly determined that “Wilmington can’t have it both ways.” Either the victims have an argument that taking the whole value of their car for simple parking tickets is an excessive fine, or the owners have a claim that the city is taking property from them without compensation since their tickets don’t rise to the value of the cars. While the city recently announced reforms to make the towing program less abusive, these fundamental problems remain.
The city ticketed Ameera’s legally parked car six times in nine days. While her appeal of the wrongly issued tickets was pending, the city towed her car and demanded payment in full. When Ameera, a disabled grandmother of three, could not afford to pay the more than $300 in tickets within 30 days, First State Towing scrapped her car. Though Ameera’s lost car was worth over $4,000, Wilmington still demands payment and has actually increased what she owes with added penalties to $580.
“People rely on their cars to get to work, to see their families, and for other critical tasks. For many people, it’s the single most important thing they own,” said IJ Senior Attorney Rob Johnson. “Today’s decision is an important step towards our ultimate goal, which is to stop Wilmington from taking people’s cars just because they owe a few hundred dollars in parking tickets.”