AuthorKuhlenbeck, Mike

One avenue for opposing the predatory towing of vehicles by local governments and private companies is to challenge these practices in the courts. Some homeless advocates and residents have filed lawsuits against local jurisdictions over their towing practices on constitutional grounds. They point to the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution to demonstrate the illegality of "poverty tows."

The Fourth Amendment prohibits warrantless searches, which could be interpreted as applying to tows. The "excessive fines" clause of the Eighth Amendment prohibits disproportionate financial penalties. And the "due process" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires adequate notice and opportunity to contest an action.

On August 27, 2019, Los Angeles resident Joseph Morrissey filed a claim for damages against the city, the first step toward a lawsuit. Morrissey returned from spending a week in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery to find that his vehicle, which had been parked legally outside his home, was ticketed, towed, and sold because he failed to heed a notice that it be moved within seventy-two hours.

In a 2018 case, Smith v. Reiskin, the plaintiff won a preliminary injunction from the...

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