The City of Wilmington faces a lawsuit over its vehicle impounding system.
The action was filed by the Institute for Justice. The group litigates property rights cases across the country and challenges fines and fees.
According to a release, Wilmington contracts out its municipal impound system to private towing companies and funds the whole system by letting these companies keep cars and SUVs.
The release allegesd that 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 woefully deficient of due process that profits off scrapping the cars they tow.
Listed as examples of the situation were Ameera Shaheed and Earl Dickerson, represented by the Institute for Justice.
The suit lawsuit challenges the city’s program because the city and its contractors take cars worth more than the amount of debt, but then fail to return any surplus value to the owner (or even to credit the value of the car toward the ticket debt.
According to the release, the city violates the Fourth Amendment by seizing cars without a warrant, and the city violates due process by failing to provide any pre-or post-seizure hearing. Finally, the lawsuit challenges the loss of a vehicle as an excessive fine.
Ameera Shaheed’s car the city ticketed her 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, the release stated.
When Ameera, a disabled grandmother of three, could not afford to pay $320 in tickets within 30 days, the towing company scrapped her car. Though Ameera’s lost car was worth over $4,000, Wilmington still demands payment and increased what she owes with added penalties to $580.
The Institute for Justice, which litigates property rights cases across the country, regularly challenges unconstitutional fines and fees. In 2019, IJ won a victory before the United States Supreme Court. The high court held that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of excessive fines applies to state governments, not just the federal government.
The issue of impounded vehicles is not limited to Wilmington, with minority communities often subject to abuses. Car and Driver outlined such practices in Chiciago in a 2019 article.
A request for comment was sent to the City of Wilmington.