The Westchester County Taxi and Limousine Commission (the “WTLC”) routinely seized and impounded for-hire vehicles without a warrant and without any recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. These seizures are based on the WTLC's so-called Vehicle Immobilization Program (“WVIP program”). This program purported to allow the WTLC to place a boot on and then impound any for-hire vehicle (“FHV”) even where the driver has not been deemed unsafe to drive, where the vehicle itself is not unsafe, where the vehicle is not contraband, and where the vehicle is not the instrumentality of a crime. The WTLC seized vehicles even where the owner of the vehicle has not failed to pay any civil penalties to the county and has not failed to answer a summons. Amazingly, WTLC claims the right to suspend even where it does not allege that the driver violated any rule or law.
In short, Westchester claimed the authority to seize a FHV even where the owner (or the driver) was guilty of no wrongdoing and had not even been accused on any wrongdoing. The Westchester law permitted the county to seize any one of thousands of vehicles at any given time because a base station owed some debt to the county. Some base stations, especially those in New York City, may include hundreds or even thousands of affiliated vehicles. The base station owner, meanwhile need not own a single vehicle as the WTLC rules define the base station owner as “any individual, partnership, corporation, or other entity owning and/or operating a
Thus, under the WVIP, Westchester, just with respect to the two largest NYC bases, claims the right seize any of 74,000 vehicles— without a warrant, without notice and without a hearing— based on $1000 in penalties owed not by the owner or driver but by their base station. Again, the vehicle owner need not owe the WTLC anything and need not have failed to answer a single summons and his car may still be subject to seizure.
The Law Office of Daniel Ackman filed a class action lawsuit challenging these seizures. Soon after the county settled the case, agreed to change its law and to cease its practice. It also paid substantial damages to the plaintiffs whose cars it seized.
Practice area(s): Administrative Law