CA9: LAPD’s and California’s 30 day vehicle impoundment policy violates 4A

LAPD’s and the State of California’s policy of requiring all impounded vehicles be held 30 days violates the Fourth Amendment. Plaintiff loaned her car to her brother-in-law who was arrested for a suspended license, and the car was impounded. She promptly showed up to retrieve the car, and the LAPD required she wait 30 days. The exigency justifying the impoundment was extinguished when she showed up with the paperwork to claim the car. Brewster v. Beck, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 10971 (9th Cir. June 21, 2017).
Summary by the Court:

The panel reversed the district court’s dismissal of an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Los Angeles police officers violated plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights when they impounded her vehicle for 30 days pursuant to California Vehicle Code section 14602.6(a)(1), which authorizes impounding a vehicle when the driver has a suspended license.

Plaintiff loaned her vehicle to her brother-in-law, who was stopped by police officers and discovered to be driving without a license. When plaintiff, who had a valid driver’s license, attempted to recover her vehicle, the Los Angeles Police Department refused to release the vehicle before the 30-day holding period had elapsed.

The panel held that the 30-day impound of plaintiff’s vehicle constituted a seizure that required compliance with the Fourth Amendment. The panel held that the exigency that justified the initial seizure vanished once the vehicle arrived in impound and plaintiff showed up with proof of ownership and a valid driver’s license. The panel concluded that appellees provided no justification for the continued impound of plaintiff’s vehicle.

Here, the vehicle was returned to the lienholder in 11 days, but the lienholder wasn’t allowed to give the owner access either.

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