741 F.Supp. 961 (D.D.C. 1990), Civ. A. 89-2389, Propert v. District of Columbia

Docket Nº:Civ. A. 89-2389
Citation:741 F.Supp. 961
Party Name:Propert v. District of Columbia
Case Date:July 27, 1990
Court:United States District Courts, District of Columbia
 
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Page 961

741 F.Supp. 961 (D.D.C. 1990)

Christopher B. PROPERT, Plaintiff,

v.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

Civ. A. No. 89-2389 (HHG).

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

July 27, 1990

J. Gordon Forester, Jr., David P. Blackwood, Greenstein Delorme & Luchs, P.C., Washington, D.C., for plaintiff.

Herbert O. Reid, Sr., Corp. Counsel, D.C., Martin L. Grossman, Deputy Corp. Counsel, D.C., Melvin W. Bolden, Jr., Chief, Sp. Litigation Section, Earnest Franklin, Jr., Asst. Corp. Counsel, D.C., Washington, D.C., for defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

HAROLD H. GREENE, District Judge.

The issue before the Court is whether the District of Columbia provides the owners of junk automobiles with sufficient notice prior to seizing and destroying the cars. The plaintiff whose car was seized and destroyed as junk asserts that the District's failure to provide for a formal notice and hearing violates the Due Process Clause. The Court disagrees.

I

On April 26, 1988, the District's Department of Public Works received a complaint that a 1969 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia with two flat tires had been parked in front of 508 Seward Square, S.E., for two months. On May 1, 1988, Officer James Stohlburg visited the car, concluded that it was a junk vehicle, and placed a bright orange sticker on the front windshield warning that if not moved, the car would be towed and destroyed. On May 11, ten days later, Stohlburg returned and placed a bright yellow sticker on the windshield warning that unless the car was moved, it would be destroyed. On May 12, 1988, the car was towed to a junk yard and destroyed.

The warning stickers were attached to the windshield with an adhesive and could only be removed by vigorous and continued scraping with a sharp object. These stickers also provided the telephone number and hours of the District's Abandoned Vehicle Office.

Although the District does not provide for a formal hearing, owners need to do no

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more than to move their cars to avoid being towed.1 There was uncontradicted testimony by two police officers involved in the District's towing program that a vehicle owner may readily and easily obtain extensions of deadline for moving the vehicle by telephoning the police officer in charge of the case. The District routinely grants extension for reasons ranging from sickness to vacations.

There was additional undisputed testimony that the officers assigned to towing program make considerable and extensive efforts to locate owners of abandoned vehicles. The efforts include identification of the owner through the Police Department computers, telephoning the owner at home, and even canvassing the neighborhood where the car is located in a further effort to locate the owner.

II

Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976), established a cost-benefit test for determining whether the Due Process Clause requires a particular type of notice and hearing. Id. at 335, 96 S.Ct. at 903. The test balances the value of the property interest at stake, the extent to which the proposed procedures would decrease the probability of an erroneous determination, and the cost of the procedure. Id.

Before turning to the plaintiff's argument, it is useful to discuss the steps generally taken, as well as those that were applied in this specific case. When a car is reported abandoned, an officer determines how long it has been there and whether it can be driven. The car will be categorized as "junk" if it is obviously inoperable (e.g., rust-eaten body, tires missing), and has been parked in the same spot for a number of weeks.2 After making the...

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