3/30/2012Federal Appeals Court Upholds Parking Ticket Challenge
Seventh Circuit US Court of Appeals green lights lawsuit against Chicago, Illinois cops who issued bogus parking tickets.
The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Wednesday upheld a motorist's right to fight back against Chicago, Illinois police officers for plastering his car with bogus parking tickets. Mark Geinosky was hit with twenty-four such tickets over fourteen months. For the alleged offenses to be valid, Geinosky's vehicle would have to have been parked in two places at the same time. Geinosky suspects the officers had been colluding with his ex-wife, and the three-judge appellate panel found that he had a point.
"Absent a reasonable explanation, and none has even been suggested yet, the pattern adds up to deliberate and unjustified official harassment that is actionable under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment," Circuit Judge David Hamilton wrote for the court.
Mark Geinosky separated from his wife of twenty years, Sharon, on October 6, 2007, and that's when his problems began. Sharon Geinosky continued to drive a Toyota that had been registered in Mark Geinosky's name. Mark Geinosky began receiving parking tickets in the mail in groups of three and four worth around $300 per set. He stood accused of parking in front of a fire hydrant, parking in a crosswalk, blocking a roadway and related offenses.
Officer Wilkerson was responsible for thirteen of those tickets, each with sequential citation numbers. The alleged violations also happened at precisely 10pm on separate days. To avoid paying for infractions he did not commit, Mark Geinosky had to go to court seven times. He won against all twenty-four tickets, but his complaints to internal affairs and the Independent Police Review Authority fell on deaf ears -- until the Chicago Tribune began running stories on the case.
US district court Judge John W. Darrah ruled that Geinosky could not file a Section 1983 "class of one" discrimination case against the officers who violated his constitutional rights and abused their police authority because he failed to identify "the norm" of how people are ordinarily treated. The appellate judges ridiculed the lower court's position and found that Geinosky was clearly singled out and received different treatment.
"In a straightforward official harassment case like the allegations here, forcing the plaintiff to name a person not so severely harassed serves no such purpose (and in any event certainly is not necessary in the complaint itself)," Judge Hamilton wrote. "Are there people in Chicago who have not received more than a dozen bogus parking tickets from the same police unit in a short time? Geinosky could find hundreds of those people on any page of the Chicago phone book."
The appellate judges noted Geinosky's case involved a highly unusual circumstance where there is no legitimate justification for the pattern of ticketing and that this would not open the door to more lawsuits.
"We are not inviting every driver with a couple of parking tickets (even invalid ones) to sue in federal court," Judge Hamilton wrote.
Federal section 1983 lawsuits allow individuals to receive treble damages from public officials who violated constitutional rights under color of law. During oral argument, the judges openly wondered why the city did not settle the case which they said represented the best example of a "class of one" lawsuit that they had ever seen.
A copy of the decision is available in a 300k PDF file at the source link below.