Judge Strikes Down Parts of Michigan Towing Law
A judge struck down portions of a Michigan towing law as unconstitutional after low-income Detroit residents shared extraordinary stories of high fees and frustration about the whereabouts of their vehicles.
The case centered on the practices of Detroit police and a towing company. The decision by U.S. District Judge Judith Levy could force changes in a law that’s viewed as favorable to the towing industry.
Levy ordered Detroit to notify the state within 24 hours after police call for a vehicle to be towed. That information typically triggers a notice to the car owner.
There was no maximum deadline to report a towed vehicle under the law, attorney Jason Katz said.
The law also required vehicle owners to pay any towing and storage fees before getting a court hearing to challenge a car’s impoundment. Levy said each owner now has a right to seek a waiver.
“You have an opportunity to get into court and fight it,” Katz said. “I don’t think first asking for $1,000 is fair.”
Gerald Grays believed his car was stolen in 2016. More than two years later, he finally learned that his car had been towed. He was told he would have to pay $930 just to get a hearing in 36th District Court, according to the lawsuit. Levy ordered Detroit to pay $2,000 to Grays and $1,500 each to two more people.
The city said it’s “happy to go back to the way things were done” before the law was changed more than 10 years ago.
“No appeal of the judge’s decision is planned, and we consider this matter favorably resolved,” city attorney Lawrence Garcia said.
While the case only involved Detroit, Levy’s decision could be applied elsewhere in Michigan, Katz said. The state defended the law when Republican Bill Schuette was attorney general but dropped out of the case after Democrat Dana Nessel took office in 2019.