Downtown parking squeeze can lead to city illegally seizing vehicles, lawsuit alleges 

Getting the boot

click to enlarge A lawsuit alleges Springs police are seizing vehicles without due process. - KILMER MEDIA / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Kilmer Media / Shutterstock.com
  • A lawsuit alleges Springs police are seizing vehicles without due process.

Ryan Charles Gilman gets a lot of parking tickets, because, he says, metered parking is often all he can find near his lower downtown law office.

On Nov. 8, he finished his day by finding a boot attached to his wife’s vehicle, which he had driven, preventing him from going home to Pueblo. He also found a notice stuck on the car’s window saying the city was holding the vehicle until he paid $145 to clear up four parking tickets and pay a $32 boot fee.

It’s a good way to ensure payment, except that the practice denies drivers who have their cars booted due process guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, a newly filed lawsuit claims.

“You have a right to a hearing, at the end of the day,” Gilman says. “Colorado Springs’ procedure says, ‘You’re guilty because we say you’re guilty, and we’re going to take your property till you pay.’”

Attorney Joseph O’Keefe, with whom Gilman practices law, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Gilman’s wife, Jessica Mata, who owns the booted vehicle, on Jan. 22 in U.S. District Court in Denver.

“The immobilization of Plaintiff’s vehicle without notice and the right to a hearing violated her [Mata’s] right to due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit states.

Due process, the lawsuit says, requires the government to give a person whose property is being seized an opportunity for a hearing and notice of that hearing before seizure occurs.

A city spokesperson declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

The lawsuit comes as citizens lash out at the city over a parking fee hike, coupled with a perceived lack of parking downtown amid explosive growth. A tire boot clamps to a vehicle’s tire and wheel, rendering it immobile.

In Denver, the city gives written “pre-deprivation” notices by mail before booting cars of those who have received but not paid three or more parking tickets, O’Keefe says.

But in Colorado Springs, the city’s website is silent about booting vehicles. He says the policy calls for a boot when someone has four or more unpaid parking citations.

O’Keefe says the city doesn’t allow for a hearing before or after “deprivation” of a vehicle by booting it. “Procedural due process requires that a person with a possessory interest in property seized by the state must be afforded an opportunity for a hearing and adequate notice of the hearing,” the lawsuit states.

In Gilman’s case, by the time he spotted the boot on Nov. 8 and paid the fine, it was after normal business hours, and he was told he would have to wait hours for a police officer to remove the boot. Gilman opted to call his wife, who drove from Pueblo to pick him up.

The next business day, Monday, Nov. 11, Gilman went to Municipal Court and confirmed he had no additional outstanding tickets. But on Jan. 10, when he went outside to plug his meter, the vehicle again was booted. When Gilman and O’Keefe inquired why, the city said there were two outstanding tickets pre-dating the first boot.

As O’Keefe notes, “This was even though it was confirmed with the city on or about Nov. 11th that those two tickets had been negotiated with a court referee and paid as the system showed [there] were no remaining outstanding tickets.”

According to the lawsuit, Gilman asked for a judicial review prior to paying another boot fee of $32, but the city told him “if he wanted to reclaim the vehicle, he would have to remit the monies they alleged were due.”

The lawsuit cites the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in Patterson vs. Cronin in 1982 that said the amount of time a property right is deprived without due process is immaterial to the fact that deprivation occurred, meaning notice of a hearing and a hearing itself are required.

O’Keefe is seeking class action status, which if granted would lead to inclusion of all those whose vehicles have been booted in the last two years. While each payment was small, O’Keefe asserts in the lawsuit that “in the aggregate” the payments would total millions of dollars.

Identities of the potential class members, he notes, could easily be obtained from the city’s electronic records “with mere keystrokes.”

The Colorado Springs Police Department, which declined to comment on the lawsuit, tells the Indy the city’s authority to boot a vehicle resides in a city ordinance and that the department booted 369 vehicles for parking tickets between 2016 and 2019. If charged $32 each, the total in boot fees reaches only $11,808, hardly the millions O’Keefe estimates.

O’Keefe and Gilman clearly are anxious about what they see as a dearth of parking downtown and the city’s overzealous enforcement tactics.

A footnote in the lawsuit states, “We were promised off street parking but, then, the landlord oversubscribed the building forcing us — on most days, to use metered parking.” The footnote adds that O’Keefe’s law office, at 605 S. Tejon St., routinely pays parking tickets of employees and clients in a timely manner.

O’Keefe says the city allows developers to add office, retail and entertainment projects without requiring adequate parking. “We’re stuffed like sardines down here without parking,” he says. “We’re parking where we can, and they’re ticketing and booting our cars for sport.”

In November, the city told the Indy the city’s “form-based code” that pertains to downtown carries a zero parking requirement for developers. That means projects are built without dedicated parking spaces.

But as city spokesperson Jamie Fabos notes via email, “There are over 8,000 parking spots in the downtown area, and the city garages are not regularly filled to capacity.”

Citizens also have pushed back on the city’s move in early January to hike parking meter and garage fees — meters went from 75 cents to $1.25 per hour — and extend meter hours of enforcement from 6 p.m. daily to 10 p.m. Citizens have complained that extended hours make it difficult for patrons to enjoy dinner and a show, notably at Kimball’s Peak Three Theater or the Pikes Peak Center, without running out to plug the meter.

The city told media last month the 6 p.m. cutoff would be reinstated in some areas, but the city’s website states enforcement continues until 10 p.m. The website doesn’t mention boots and under what circumstances they’re applied.

A magistrate judge set March 23 for a conference on the lawsuit.

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