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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Court Questions City DUI Administrative Fee Program

Many Illinois municipalities have adopted ordinances imposing an administrative fee when police tow and impound a vehicle in connection with a DUI arrest.  These ordinances have been challenged in the past, and upheld by Illinois appellate courts. Recently, however, an appellate court questioned the DUI administrative fee ordinances adopted by a number of Illinois cities. Although the court did not go so far as to invalidate the ordinances, it did reverse the circuit court's dismissal of the cases that challenged the legality of the ordinances and sent the matter back to the circuit court for further proceedings. Carter v. City of Alton, et al., 2015 IL App (5th) 130544.  For municipalities that have passed similar ordinances (and many of you have), this will be a case to follow.

The fees in the challenged ordinances ranged from $100 to $500. All were imposed as an "administrative" fee that had to be paid to retrieve a towed and impounded vehicle following a DUI arrest.  The plaintiffs (who had been arrested for DUI's and been assessed the fee) challenged the constitutionality of the ordinances on the basis that the fees had no reasonable relationship to the stated purpose of the ordinance and, therefore, violated their substantive due process rights.

The cities filed motions to dismiss on various grounds, including that (1) previous appellate decisions upheld these fees and (2) the fees were reasonable in light of the costs incurred by the cities in arresting drunken drivers, booking them into jail, filling out paperwork, and towing and impounding the vehicles.  The circuit court dismissed the cases, and the plaintiffs appealed.

The appellate court acknowledged the many cases that had previously upheld similar administrative fees. However, the court distinguished those cases, finding they did not address the specific issue raised by plaintiffs in this case - whether the amount of the fee bears some reasonable relationship to the actual costs the fee is intended to recoup.  In the court's opinion, the plaintiffs' complaint sufficiently plead this issue and should not have been dismissed.

Although the court remanded the case back to the circuit court for a final determination on whether the ordinances were constitutional, it did offer its own opinion on that issue.  For example, the court noted that many of the costs incurred by the cities and used to justify the fee (1) duplicate other fees (i.e., towing company charges; (2) are not unique to vehicle offenses (i.e., booking costs and processing evidence); and (3) would have been incurred anyway (i.e., police officer salaries). 

Although the  court concluded by stating that it expresses "no opinion as to the ultimate question of whether the fees charged by these ordinances are reasonably related to the costs incurred by the defendants", in my opinion, it spent many pages doing just that, which the concurrence noted as well. In any event, on remand, the cities will need to support their own DUI fee programs with evidence of actual costs incurred in administering that specific program, and not just general arrest and booking costs.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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