Madison - St. Clair Record

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Municipalities continue to fight long running actions over towing fees following DUI arrests

State Court

By John Breslin | Nov 20, 2019


EDWARDSVILLE - Nearly eight years after class actions were filed against several cities over claims they overcharged towing fees for those drivers accused of drunk driving, the cases continue to be argued in court.

The City of Edwardsville has filed a motion to dismiss one action taken against the city, which was first filed in 2011 and dismissed by a trial court two years later. The Fifth District Appellate Court remanded the action back to trial court to allow for more discovery.

Baxter Grace filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court in 2011 claiming that the $300 towing fee charged to those arrested for driving under the influence violated his due process rights. The action, on behalf of himself and others, was similar to ones filed against Alton, Granite City and Collinsville, which all claimed the fee was much higher than if a car is towed in any other circumstances.

A hearing before Associate Judge Clarence Harrison last week in the Grace action centered on discovery issues, which were resolved, according to Edwardsville city attorney Jim Schrempf.

In its motion to dismiss, the city argued that Grace has no right to pursue the case as he did not pursue any other remedy, including an administrative hearing, prior to filing his legal action.

The plaintiff "paid the fee but did not request an administrative hearing, request a refund, or otherwise challenge the assessment prior to bringing this action," Schrempf argued in a filing.

In a statement, Schrempf told the Record: "The ordinances in question are premised upon the idea that it is appropriate to make the person who took action requiring an impoundment to pay the municipal costs incurred with regard to that impoundment. 

"Alternatively, that cost would be paid by the taxpayers in one form or another. While the municipal personnel are engaged in the necessary activities related to the impoundment, they cannot perform the other services they would otherwise provide."

Schrempf explained that the Grace case is whether the ordinances are constitutional. 

"The original trial judge, the honorable Thomas Chapman, ruled that the ordinances in question are constitutional. On appeal, the Fifth District Appellate Court remanded the case to the trial court to allow the parties an opportunity for discovery. Since remand, discovery has been ongoing," Schrempf said.

"The municipalities believe that the question of constitutionality is a question of law and not a question of fact. Therefore we believe that the trial court is likely to issue a decision on the question of constitutionality once the discovery process has been completed."

Madison County Circuit Court case number 2011-L-1304

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