Court Sides With City on Hearings Over Towed Vehicles

Times Staff Writer

The Supreme Court, siding with the city of Los Angeles, said motorists whose cars have been towed are not entitled to hearings within 48 hours to contest the charges.

They are, however, entitled to get their cars back.

In an unsigned, unanimous opinion, the justices agreed with city officials that the Constitution does not require immediate hearings. In the past, the court has said that a person who is arrested is entitled to a hearing within 48 hours, but the same rule does not extend to disputes over towing charges.

“We conclude that the 30-day delay in holding a hearing here reflects no more than a routine delay substantially required by administrative needs,” the court said in City of Los Angeles vs. David.


The dispute that reached the high court began on Aug. 13, 1998, when Edwin David went to see his cardiologist. He parked his car on Olympic Boulevard in West Los Angeles, thinking he could do so until 4 p.m.

He was wrong. The sign said “No Parking” after 3 p.m. By 3:15 p.m., Hank’s Wilshire Tow had taken away his car. David retrieved it later that afternoon and paid the $134.50 cost.

He sought a hearing, and one was scheduled for Sept. 9. To David’s dismay, the officer who ticketed his car was not there, but a hearing examiner ruled that the towing had been justified.

David then sued in federal court, contending, among other things, that the delay in scheduling a hearing had violated his right to “due process of law.”


In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the “undue delay” had violated the Constitution by taking David’s property without due process of law.

Judges Ferdinand Fernandez and Samuel King formed the majority. The dissenter, Judge Alex Kozinski, said the property at issue in the case was David’s car, not the towing charge.

City lawyers appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed the ruling without hearing arguments.