State Supreme Court to review towing, cellphone ordinances

Nov. 12, 2013 @ 09:14 PM

The state Supreme Court will review Chapel Hill’s towing and mobile phone ordinances after a local business questioned the town’s authority to enact such legislation.
The Supreme Court announced last week that it will accept the case between the town and George’s Towing and Recovery over legislation the town enacted to stop what officials said were predatory towing practices and improve the safety of citizens by banning cellphone use while driving.
As the review moves forward, a temporary stay and court injunction prevent the town from enforcing either ordinance.
Both sides are going to file briefs and await the scheduling of a hearing before the state Supreme Court.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said that he is disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to review, “because we have such a strong, unanimous opinion from the Court of Appeals.”
Kleinschmidt added that the court’s review could be a step in addressing larger issues facing towns across the state.
“It really addresses the concern in recent years regarding municipal and county authority,” he said. “The Supreme Court could effectively use this to further clarify local authority for city and local authority. The issues are broad. They affect a lot of communities and they go with the state’s current issues of government authority.”
According to a press release from the town of Chapel Hill, the case between the town and George King of George’s Towing and Recovery stems from two ordinances and King’s argument that Chapel Hill does not have the legislative authority to regulate towing in the town the way the ordinance outlines nor does it have the authority to regulate mobile phone use by drivers.
Additionally, King asserts that the provisions of the ordinances “were overly burdensome and negatively impacted his business.”
King’s attorney, Tom Stark of Stark Law Group, said that he is pleased that the Supreme Court agreed to review the case, explaining that he believes the ordinances are pre-emptive by state law and that the towing ordinance is unconstitutional.
“We think it’s an important case and I think that the Supreme Court will be able to straighten this out.”
Kleinschmidt said that Chapel Hill isn’t the only town that regulates towing and that the implications of this review will be very broad. As far as the cellphone ban is concerned, he said that there is room for improvement.
“I didn’t initially support the cellphone ban,” Kleinschmidt said. “It needs retooling and can be addressed once the litigation is concluded.”
Stark said that King’s “is a mobile business so the tow truck operator has to be able to respond immediately.
“That’s basically how people do business today,” Stark said. “To take that away takes us to a different age.”