United States District Court, D. Minnesota
A.L. Brown, Capitol City Law Group, LLC, Counsel for Plaintiff.
Kara M. Kisch, Assistant City Attorney for the City of Saint Paul, Counsel for Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF LAW & ORDER
MICHAEL J. DAVIS, Chief District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on the Defendant City of Saint Paul's Motion for Summary Judgment. [Docket No. 19] The Court heard oral argument on Friday, January 23, 2015.
A. Factual Background
1. The Parties
Plaintiff Corey Statham ("Plaintiff") is a resident of Minnesota. ([Docket No. 21] First Amended Complaint ("FAC") ¶ 3.) The City of St. Paul ("the City") is a municipal corporation under Minn. Stat. § 412.211. (Id. ¶ 4.)
2. The Incident
Plaintiff lived out of his 2001 Nissan Maxima ("the Nissan"). (Id. ¶ 7.) On August 30, 2013, he and two others drove the Nissan to the University Avenue Wal-Mart store in Saint Paul, Minnesota. (Id. ¶ 8.) Upon exiting the Wal-Mart parking lot, he was stopped by an off-duty Saint Paul police officer that was investigating a complaint made against him by another Wal-Mart customer. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 12.) After an exchange, Plaintiff and another passenger were arrested for obstructing the legal process and disorderly conduct. (Id. ¶ 13.)
At the time of arrest, Plaintiff's Nissan was situated in the crosswalk in front of the Walmart. The arresting officer ordered that the Nissan be towed to a Saint Paul impound lot. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 16.) Ultimately, Plaintiff was not charged with any crime and/or charges were dismissed. (Id. ¶ 18.)
On September 30, 2013, the City notified Plaintiff of his right to reclaim the vehicle via a Certified Notification Letter. ([Docket No. 22-1] Affidavit of K. Meghan Kisch ("Kisch Aff."), Ex. 2, Certified Notification Letter ("the Letter").) The Letter stated that Plaintiff's Nissan had been impounded pursuant to City Legislative Code Chapters 161 (Parking During Emergencies), 162 (authorizing abatement of vehicles found to be "in violation of the ordinances of the City of Saint Paul or the laws of the State of Minnesota"), and 163 (abandoned vehicles); Minnesota Statute section 168B.04 (authorizing impounding of vehicle immediately if unauthorized vehicle is on private, nonresidential property that is properly posted, or after 24 hours if the unauthorized vehicle is on private, nonresidential property that is not posted) or "other applicable law." (Id.)
The Letter also notified Plaintiff that he could reclaim the vehicle and property under Minnesota Statutes sections 168B, 168B.07 and 168B.08, which, when read together, state that the owner of an impounded vehicle has a right to reclaim the vehicle by paying all towing and storage fees resulting from taking the vehicle into custody. (Id.) If the vehicle was not reclaimed, the Letter explained that the Nissan was "eligible for disposal" fifteen days after issuance of the notice. (Id. p. 3.) To reclaim the vehicle, Plaintiff was instructed to pay "all towing and storage charges." (Id.)
Plaintiff alleges that he made several attempts to get his car back or to challenge the propriety of the fees. (FAC ¶ 20.) Sometime around early November, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Claim with the City. ([Docket No. 26-1] Affidavit of A.L. Brown ("Brown Aff."), Ex. B, Letter from Sandra Bodensteiner ("Notice of Claim Letter").) The City responded by letter to Plaintiff, acknowledging receipt and advising that "the best course of action would be for [Plaintiff] to pay the outstanding balance at the impound lot so that [his] vehicle is not in danger of being auctioned off." (Id.) The Notice of Claim Letter further warned that under Minnesota statutes, ownership of a vehicle reverts to the municipality if it is left at the impound lot. (Id.)
Plaintiff did not timely pay towing and storage fees totaling at least $1, 779.76. (FAC ¶¶ 20-25.) The City auctioned Plaintiff's Nissan on December 20, 2013, for $650.00. (Brown Aff., Ex. A, City of Saint Paul's Answers to Pl.'s First Set of Interrogs. ("Interrog. Answer") No. 7, p. 6.)
3. Abatement of Towing and Storage Charges
Section 162.11 of the City's Municipal Code ("the Code") provides that the "chief of police shall have the power to abate... towing and storage charges and/or ...