Fifth District remands tow fee class actions to Madison County

By Ann Maher | May 5, 2015

Collinsville Mayor John Miller

People arrested for DUI in Edwardsville, Alton, Collinsville and Granite City and had to pay a premium fee to retrieve their impounded cars will get to proceed again with their proposed class actions.

The Fifth District Appellate Court ruled May 4 that Madison County Associate Judge Thomas Chapman erred in dismissing four cases at the pleading stage in October 2013.

Plaintiffs in those cases, represented by Brian Polinske of Edwardsville, argue that tow ordinances adopted by the cities were invalid because "administrative" fees charged to drivers ticketed for DUI or driving with suspended or revoked licenses do not bear a reasonable relationship to the cities' actual administrative costs, and therefore violate due process.

In Granite City, for instance, plaintiff David Funkhouser claims he had to pay the higher of two authorized administrative towing fees of $400 versus $150 to retrieve his car after a July 10, 2011 arrest.

In an order remanding the cases to Madison County, Justice Melissa Chapman wrote that the unanimous three judge panel only holds that the cases were dismissed prematurely,

"We express no opinion as to the ultimate question of whether the fees charged by these ordinances are reasonably related to the costs incurred by the defendants.," Chapman wrote.

Justce James Moore specially concurred, writing that plaintiffs have made allegations that could "potentially lead to a legal conclusion that the fees imposed by the ordinances violate substantive due process."

He wrote that while defendants have provided some evidence supporting their motions to dismiss, plaintiffs have not had the opportunity to conduct discovery.

"Once discovery is complete, the circuit court must evaluate the evidence presented during an evidentiary hearing or in a summary proceeding and make a determination as to whether the amount of the fees charged is rationally related to the defendants' legitimate governmental interests," Moore wrote.

Collinsville Mayor John Miller said in an earlier interview that he believes the city's two tier tow fee structure - $100 and $500 - is justifiable because of increased costs associated with making DUI arrests.

“The big thing is when we impound a vehicle it takes an officer a half hour to an hour to go through the vehicle and inventory everything,” he said. “It takes him off the street.”

He also said there is paperwork related to those arrests that take up the valuable time of officers.

“Why should the law breakers get off scot free,” he said.

James E. Schrempf of Alton represents the City of Alton; Steven C. Giacoletto of Collinsville represents the City of Collinsville; Michael K. Nowak of Belleville and others represent the cities of Edwardsville and Granite City.

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