Detroit parking fines unconstitutional, lawsuit alleges

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city is wrongfully collecting parking meter fines and late fees and violating the constitutional rights of motorists, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court.

The lawsuit, which was filed last week, threatens to plug a revenue stream that has generated millions of dollars for Detroit since it emerged from bankruptcy three years ago but could provide financial relief for thousands of motorists.

The lawsuit seeks to block the city from issuing tickets and collecting fines and fees that exceed authorized amounts, and accuses Detroit of failing to provide a $10 early payment discount.

The motorists who filed the class-action lawsuit want Chief U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood to declare the city’s parking fines and late fees excessive and rule that it violates constitutional protections against excessive fines.

“Millions of dollars in unlawful and unauthorized fines have been assessed and collected by the Defendants as a result of their wrongful actions and to the detriment of tens of thousands of car owners (if not more) who were assessed excessive fines for alleged parking violations,” lawyer Shaun Godwin wrote in the lawsuit.

A city spokesman declined to comment Friday.

The lawsuit was filed by Detroit resident Kayla Friess, 25, and West Bloomfield Township resident Issa Haddad, both of whom have received at least one $45 parking ticket.

The complaint names parking meter contractor Duncan Solutions Inc., Detroit parking director Norman White and James Canty, who manages the city’s parking violations bureau.

The city unveiled a new $3.5 million on-street parking system in 2015 called ParkDetroit, which offers “pay-by-plate” kiosks, rather than individual meters. Drivers can use a mobile app or pay at meter kiosks in specific zones.

The city initially wrote only courtesy tickets in neighborhoods as it piloted the system to remind drivers to make parking payments. They also had enforcement officers serving as ambassadors to assist motorists in using the kiosks.

The overhaul included new enforcement vehicles equipped with license plate-reader technology that quickly scans license plates to determine whether motorists have paid to park in the area. If there is a violation, a ticket is processed and printed from a hand-held device.

In July 2015, the City Council voted to revise Detroit's parking ordinance, a move that established varying zones throughout the city, most with steeper rates.

As a revenue-generating initiative, former emergency manager Kevyn Orr approved a new rate schedule for parking fines.

The increase — Detroit's first in more than a decade — bumped tickets from $30, $50 and $80 to $45, $65 and $95, respectively, for parking violations and late fees. The new schedule also eliminated a $10 rate for early payment.

Detroit had been paying $32 to issue and process a $30 parking violation.

The city is assessing parking fines at rates higher than those allowed by city ordinance and failing to provide early-payment discounts, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the practice and correct what the motorists call an “unlawful scheme.”

Duncan, meanwhile, is being unlawfully enriched by collecting the illegal fines and committing common law fraud, according to the lawsuit.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin company did not respond to a message seeking comment Friday.

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