Towing ordinance suspended, again

Jun. 25, 2013 @ 10:39 PM

One day after the town began to enforce its controversial towing ordinance, the tow company that sued the town over the ordinance was granted a temporary stay by the N.C. Supreme Court prohibiting its enforcement.

The stay comes nearly three weeks after the state Court of Appeals ruled the town has the right to enforce the ordinance under general police powers granting municipalities the right to “prohibit, regulate, or abate acts, omissions, or conditions detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of its citizens.”

George’s Towing and Recovery, which had sued on the constitutional ground that the town did not have the right to regulate trade, also filed a notice of appeal challenging the state Court of Appeals ruling and asking the state Supreme Court to uphold Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson’s decision that enforcement of the towing ordinance is unconstitutional.

“We feel good about the petition,” said Thomas Stark, the attorney representing George’s Towing. “We feel we have a strong case and an important case.”

Stark said it can take anywhere between 60 to 150 days for the state Supreme Court to render its decision.

George’s Towing also has challenged the town’s cell phone ban, which the appeals court did not rule on because no one had been charged with a violation when the towing company claimed the ban would do irreparable harm to its business.

Still, the town pushed the effective date of the cell phone ban to Oct. 1 in anticipation of a challenge by George’s Towing.

Officials believed the town was on more solid legal ground with the towing ordinance because it had one in the past. 

Until Monday, the town had operated without a towing ordinance since Hudson issued his order last August.

In the ensuing months, tow truck operators could charge offending motorists as much or as little as they liked to retrieve cars impounded from private lots in downtown.

The ordinance sets the maximum fee for towing a vehicle from a private lot at $125, establishes a $50 fee for vehicles released to an owner after being hooked to a tow truck but before it is towed, and a $20-a-day storage fee after the first 24 hours.

The amended ordinance also mandates that tow truck drivers accept credit cards as well as cash payments, that operators notify police when towing vehicles and restricts vehicles from being towed to lots farther than 15 miles outside of town limits.

In adopting the amendments, the town cited its authority under the state’s General Statutes that grant municipalities general police powers to “prohibit, regulate, or abate acts, omissions, or conditions detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of its citizens.”

The judges agreed that the “Towing Ordinance is a valid exercise of the town’s police power” under GS 160A-174 (a).