E.D.N.Y.: Village’s Scofflaw law permitting seizure of vehicles for nonpayment of parking tickets violates lessor owner’s 4A rights in vehicle

The plaintiff Toyota Lease Trust owns vehicles it leases to individuals. One of plaintiff’s lessees ran up $1000 in unpaid parking tickets and the Village of Freeport seized the vehicle under its Scofflaw law. The seizure violated the owner’s Fourth Amendment rights. The village also deprived plaintiff of Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by the lack of notice of seizure. Toyota Lease Trust v. Vill. of Freeport, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12329 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2023):

Applying these standards, the Court concludes that Freeport’s Scofflaw policy as applied in this case violated Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights as a matter of law. Defendant seized the Vehicle pursuant to its Scofflaw policy and failed to obtain a warrant for the seizure. Further, the Village offers no exception to the warrant requirement, and the Court determines that none applies here. While Freeport contends that the Vehicle had an expired registration sticker displayed, no insurance code was on file, and that it had been deemed abandoned and was blocking traffic, it does not dispute that the Vehicle was located and impounded pursuant to its Scofflaw policy. Def. Mem. at 6; Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 15-16. Further, the February 5, 2020 ticket for an expired registration would not have been issued if the car had not been located using the LPR system under the Scofflaw procedures, and an expired registration sticker similarly does not lead to an appropriate warrantless seizure. Finally, the expired registration ticket was paid on or about March 3, 2020, Pl. Counter ¶ 13, meaning Freeport’s continued retention after that date—which is prior to when Freeport sent a letter to Toyota on March 25, 2020—did not relate to the Vehicle’s registration sticker and/or insurance. This continued retention, therefore, is a separate Fourth Amendment violation. As a result, no material facts are in dispute as to Freeport’s warrantless seizure and seven-month retention of the Vehicle establishing a constitutional deprivation under the Fourth Amendment. Moreover, as the Village admits, the seizure was carried out pursuant to its Scofflaw policy, which establishes the second element for the Section 1983 claim. Accordingly, the Court concludes that summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff on liability is warranted as to its Fourth Amendment cause of action.

On the due process claim:

Applying these standards, the Court determines that Freeport’s actions violated Toyota’s Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, again as a matter of law. Freeport seized the Vehicle prior to providing any notice to Toyota. When it did provide notice, it was untimely as the letter sent 49 days after impounding the vehicle, and it was deficient as it failed to provide an opportunity for a hearing. Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 13-14, 26; see also Pl. Mem. Ex. M. Even if All County provided notice via letter five days after it impounded the Vehicle, it did not provide opportunity for a hearing, and as Freeport admits, All County did not have authority to release the Vehicle pursuant to its towing agreement with the Village. Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 12, 40-45; see Pl. Mem. Ex. D. Applying the Matthews factors, Plaintiff’s property interests in the Vehicle outweighs Freeport’s interest in collecting fines, and the undisputed lack of hearing requirement under the Scofflaw policy violates due process. As a result, Toyota has established a constitutional deprivation by failing to provide timely notice and a hearing before a neutral decisionmaker to review the warrantless seizure. Furthermore, Toyota has sufficiently established that the Scofflaw policy and the Village’s deficient notice caused this constitutional deprivation satisfying the second element for this Section 1983 claim. Accordingly, the Court concludes that summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff is warranted as to its Fourteenth Amendment due process claim.

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