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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Court Upholds Impoundment Ordinance But Raises Concerns for Municipalities

In McGrath v. City of Kankakee, 2016 ILApp (3d) 140523, the court upheld a city ordinance that authorized the impoundment of vehicles operated by persons under the influence of alcohol or drugs; whose driver’s license is suspended or revoked; or against whom a warrant has been issued for failing to appear in court to answer charges of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs or for operating a motor vehicle while that person’s license was suspended or revoked.

When Plaintiff’s vehicle was impounded, she sued claiming the city did not post traffic regulatory signs as required by section 11-207 of the Motor Vehicle Code warning motorists of the possibility of municipal impoundment.  This section provides that municipal ordinances that impose traffic regulations not contained in the Motor Vehicle Code “shall not be effective until signs giving reasonable notice thereof are posted.”  The city had posted signs, albeit, 5 years after the ordinance was enacted.  The court failed to address the sign issue due to the fact that the Plaintiff failed to plead when her car was impounded.  In concurrence, Justice McDade said the case left an important question unanswered:  How many individuals were subject to impoundment when the ordinance was invalid due to the lack of properly posted signs?

The court next addressed the Plaintiff’s argument that the ordinance was an unconstitutional attempt by the city to raise revenue through its police powers.  The court, relying on various cases involving the City of Chicago, found that the $500 fine was constitutional.  The fine served the legitimate purpose of deterring criminal activity.  The court stated that a fee must be reasonably related to cost of providing services, but a fine is intended to be punitive.

Many municipalities have enacted vehicle impoundment ordinances.  The McGrath case raises but does not answer an important question:  Must signs be posted in the municipality pursuant to section 207 of the Motor Vehicle Code in order to enforce the impoundment ordinance? Additionally the case provides an apparent safe harbor for reasonable fines as opposed to administrative fees which must be justified based on the cost of impoundment.  Municipalities should consult with their municipal attorneys for guidance on these two important matters following the McGrath case.

Post Authored by Steve Mahrt, Ancel Glink


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