California law says "a vehicle shall not be removed unless signs are posted giving notice of removal."
A Westside attorney had his minivan impounded anyway. He left it in one spot on a public street for more than 72 hours, which is a violation of a city ordinance. But there are no street signs that warn people about this parking rule.
Now lawyer J. David Sackman is suing the city of Los Angeles.
"I've been up to the U.S. Supreme Court before, and I'm ready to go again," he said. "We want this law thrown out."
The City Attorney's office declined to comment because the case is still pending. A judge is scheduled to hear two motions May 8 — the city's motion to dismiss and Sackman's motion for summary judgement that would ask the judge to pick a winner on the spot without a jury trial.
The city rule has been around since the 1980s, even though officials admit there has been no signage.
The city has argued through court filings that signs aren't necessary; the fact that the law was passed by the City Council is notice enough. A key tenet of our justice system is that ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Besides, people can't leave their cars in one spot forever, right? That's called abandonment.
But Sackman notes that the city already has a separate ordinance covering abandoned vehicles, which, under its language, are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
"There's another law specifically for abandoned cars," he said. But with the separate, 72-hour rule, "They're going to assume it's abandoned and you can't do much about it."
Sackman notes in the suit that the city last year vowed to increase the number of impounds it does. In 2014 there were 4,539 cars towed by the city for alleged abandonment. A city report says complaints about abandoned cars are on the increase.
The city argues that previous court rulings have recognized its right to tow cars after 72 hours even without signage. Sackman says those rulings did not definitively settle the matter of signage, though. In one case, he said, a scofflaw already knew about the law, signs or no signs, he said.
The suit says the city took the Toyota Sienna of Sackman and wife Jerolyn without due process after the couple left town for a few days — Sunday to Wednesday — in September. When he got up to go to work the next Thursday morning, Sackman said, the Toyota was gone.
The suit says a neighbor complained that it has been in one place for too long, and a parking enforcement officer marked a tire with chalk to track its progress, or lack thereof.
Towing resulted, and the couple paid $274.20 to get their minivan back, the suit says.
The vehicle has sentimental value for Jerolyn Sackman because it belonged to her late brother, the suit says.
While there were other restrictions noted on nearby street signs, including Thursday afternoon street sweeping and residential permit–only restrictions, those did not apply since the vehicle was not there for street sweeping and the couple has a residential permit, Sackman told us.
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He says he once worked with immigrant-workers leader Cesar Chavez and that now he litigates in the field of labor law. Sackman says his goal is not necessarily to get cash out of the city but to get City Hall to stop making money this way off the backs of residents.
He wants the 72-hour rule abandoned altogether, although the attorney acknowledges that the judge could simply order the city to revise its parking signs.
"This is an issue that affects working people," Sackman says. "They're the ones who need their cars for work — they're the ones who are going to get their cars towed."