Press Releases

April 10, 2020

Cancer Patient Sues the City of LA for Wrongful Tow and Sale of his Vehicle

Media Contact:

Camille de la Vega

Communications Specialist 

650-787-3675

cdelavega@publiccounsel.org

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Cancer Patient Sues the City of LA for Wrongful Tow and Sale of his Vehicle

Joseph Morrissey files lawsuit against the City for violating his constitutional rights against unreasonable seizure and to due process while recovering from cancer.

LOS ANGELES, CA, April 10, 2020  – Today, Public Counsel and international law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of Joseph Morrissey against the City of Los Angeles and Viertel’s Automotive Service (d/b/a Viertel’s Towing Services, Viertel’s Central & Northeast Division) for the wrongful seizure and sale of Morrissey’s car while he was recovering from cancer surgery. The suit alleges that the City violated Morrissey’s constitutional rights against unreasonable seizure and due process, and federal and state laws that prohibit disability discrimination.

Morrissey is a long-time Los Angeles resident and one of the many Angelenos harmed by the City’s practice of citing and towing cars that have not been moved within a 72-hour period. Morrissey, who regularly parked in front of his home in his residential Northeast LA neighborhood for more than six years, left his car parked on the street as usual while he was hospitalized for cancer surgery. After spending over a week in the hospital because of complications from the surgery, he returned home to recover, where he was bedbound and medically prohibited from driving.

Just a couple days after his release from the hospital, Morrissey learned he had been cited by the City for failing to move his otherwise legally-parked car within 72 hours. Before he could arrange for assistance to move the car, he woke up the next morning to find that the City had towed his car of ten years. His car was safely parked, legally registered, and following all other traffic and parking regulations.

“The City’s practice of towing cars simply because they have been parked in one place for 72 hours discriminates against people like Mr. Morrissey whose medical conditions restrict their ability to move a car and disproportionally harms low-income Angelenos already struggling to get by,” said Nisha Kashyap, Staff Attorney at Public Counsel.

“Cars are a lifeline for so many people, and taking a person’s car has rippling consequences for their mental and physical well-being. In Mr. Morrissey’s case, the City took the only car he owned when he needed it most for the road to recovery from cancer,” said David I. Horowitz, lead counsel and a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP.  

Morrissey immediately contested the ticket and tow, paid the $68 fine, and submitted evidence of his hospitalization and medical condition. The City acknowledged receipt of his submissions, cashed his payment, and then denied Morrissey his legal right to challenge the ticket, towing, and impound fees. Instead, the City sold his car at a lien sale.

“I’ve never been involved in anything like this. I couldn’t afford the towing and storage fees so I tried to do everything they asked of me while I contested the ticket and tow; I submitted the papers, paid the citation. They took my money and still sold my car,” explained Morrissey.

“Angelenos whose cars are ticketed and towed are forced to navigate a complicated, confusing process, which is yet another barrier to recovering their cars. It is fundamentally unfair to sell a person’s car while they are fighting to get it back,” said Cindy Pánuco, Directing Attorney of the Consumer Rights and Economic Justice Project at Public Counsel.

The lawsuit comes after the City’s rejection of an administrative claim for damages that Mr. Morrissey filed on August 27, 2019, and seeks damages to compensate Morrissey for the loss of his car and systemic changes to the City’s towing practices. “Unfortunately, Mr. Morrissey isn’t the only person affected by this problem, so it is critical to reform the City’s practices to prevent this from happening to others in the future,” said Lena Cohen, an associate at Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

The case was filed in both the Superior Court of the State of California and the United States District Court. 

Legal documents: 

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About Public Counsel: Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. Founded in 1970, Public Counsel strives to achieve three main goals: protect the legal rights of disadvantaged children; represent immigrants who have been the victims of torture, persecution, domestic violence, trafficking, and other crimes; and foster economic justice by providing individuals and institutions in underserved communities with access to quality legal representation. Through a pro bono model that leverages the talents and dedication of thousands of attorney and law student volunteers, along with an in-house staff of more than 75 attorneys and social workers, Public Counsel annually assists more than 30,000 families, children, immigrants, veterans, and nonprofit organizations and addresses systemic poverty and civil rights issues through impact litigation and policy advocacy. For more information, visit www.publiccounsel.org

About Kirkland & Ellis:  Kirkland & Ellis is an international law firm with more than 2,700 attorneys representing clients in private equity, M&A and other complex corporate transactions, litigation and dispute resolution/arbitration, restructuring, and intellectual property matters. The Firm operates from 15 offices around the world: Beijing, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, Paris, San Francisco, Shanghai and Washington, D.C. Kirkland is committed to providing legal services without charge to those who cannot afford counsel, with the goals of improving lives, bettering communities and deepening our attorneys’ professional experience. Kirkland attorneys at all levels pursue pro bono matters dealing with a variety of issues such as immigration, disability rights, civil rights, prisoner rights, death penalty cases and criminal appeals, guardianship, veterans’ benefits, and the representation of nonprofit organizations, among other areas. In 2019, Kirkland attorneys devoted more than 164,000 hours of free legal service to pro bono clients. Learn more about Kirkland’s commitment to pro bono and corporate social responsibility at www.kirkland.com/CSR.