LA Stops Vehicle Impounds for Unpaid Parking Tickets

A court case threatens Los Angeles' longstanding claims of legal authority for seizing so-called "scofflaw" vehicles.

NBC Universal, Inc.

The city of Los Angeles has ordered parking enforcement and police officers to immediately stop impounding vehicles that have accrued numerous unpaid parking tickets because of a pretrial ruling in a lawsuit that could profoundly change the city's parking enforcement in the future. 

"Effective immediately," the towing authority for five or more unpaid parking citations, "shall be temporarily suspended," wrote Brian Hale, the Chief of Parking Enforcement for the City of LA, in a Feb. 4 memo obtained by the I-Team.

That directive followed a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal, who denied a motion filed by the City to dismiss a lawsuit filed last summer by a woman whose legally-parked car was impounded for unpaid citations.

"This kind of ruling is a victory for the people at the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder, who are least able to deal with it," said attorney Donald W. Cook, who filed the lawsuit last August.

He said in court papers his client could not afford to pay the parking tickets because she was out of work, due to COVID, and had additional difficulties because of a medical condition. 

The LA City Department of Transportation referred NBC4's inquiries to the City Attorney's office, which is defending the legal case. 

Judge Bernal said in a Jan. 20 decision the city's interpretation of a variety of federal and state laws it has relied on for many years to justify warrantless vehicle seizures, in order to enforce parking rules, were incorrect.


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The city argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because it had the authority to impound illegally parked cars and claimed it was immune from legal liability.

"There is a distinction, from a community caretaking perspective, between removal of an illegally parked car with multiple unpaid citations and a legally parked car with multiple unpaid citations," Judge Bernal wrote. "The City fails to grasp the difference."

The order to parking enforcement officers only applies to so-called "scofflaw" impounds of vehicles that have amassed five or more parking tickets. The city will still tow vehicles for other reasons, including cars that are parked in anti-gridlock zones, are blocking fire hydrants or driveways, and those that present an immediate traffic hazard. 

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