CLASS ACTION SUIT FILED AGAINST CITY

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In a virtually unprecedented move, Santa Monica attorney Stanley Epstein spoke briefly to the City Council Tuesday night before it went into closed session about item 1-C “Existing Litigation” brought by Epstein and his wife against the City and others for violating the California Vehicle Code laws regarding parking tickets.

Epstein’s tone was brisk; his message clear: he had tried since mid-February to resolve the case without resorting to litigation. He had met with City officials, sent countless letters and emails, but had been rebuffed at every turn, and left with no choice but filing a class action suit, which would cost the City a great deal of money in lawyers’ fees.

No action was taken on 1-C in the closed session.

Parking tickets are one of the petty annoyances of modern life. Nobody likes them, but, after some grumbling and grousing, most people pay them, and get on with their lives.

But when Epstein’s wife, Harriet Epstein, was given a ticket for parking in a space reserved exclusively for Euclid Park visitors between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., she contested it, as she didn’t believe she was in violation. Though she didn’t know it at the time, that was the genesis of the lawsuit.
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Following California Vehicle Code (CVC), Section 40215, “Contesting Parking Violation Procedure,” Epstein wrote to the Parking Violations Bureau (PVB), stated the reasons that the citation was invalid and asked for its dismissal. Her letter reported that the officer had written “S.C.V.” on the ticket, but did not state what it meant. Further, Epstein parked at 2 p.m. and was issued the ticket at 2:05 p.m., but unless the officer followed her around for the next 55 minutes, which she didn’t, she had no way of knowing whether Mrs. Epstein had spent time in the park.

Her letter was reviewed by a Santa Monica Police Department Traffic Services Officer and sent on to the Parking Violations Bureau, a sub-contractor of ACS State and Local Solutions, a Xerox subsidiary that manages parking ticket paperwork and other administrative services for Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Culver City and West Hollywood (“Westside Cities”) and many other cities in this country and abroad.

A few days later, Epstein received a form letter (unsigned) from PVB that said simply, “the citation is valid,” thus violating CVC 40215, which states that the ”initial review notification” must “include a reason for the denial.”

Epstein and her husband, Stanley, an attorney, went to the Santa Monica Police Department headquarters to report that the PVB reply neither complied with CVC requirements nor stated the bases for the denial of
of Epstein’s claim.. They were told by an SMPD lieutenant that the “denial notification was appropriate,” though it gave no reason for the denial, but merely confirmed the citation’s alleged validity.

Still following the Vehicle Code rules, Mrs. Epstein paid the $64 fine and requested a hearing.

“Parking citation hearing examiner services” are provided by ACS and overseen by a division of the City Finance Department. Hearing examiner Sheri Ross has a two-year contract with the City to adjudicate
parking violation appeals. .

The Epsteins appeared before Ross, challenged the validity of the original citation, pointed out that the PVB notification failed to cite a reason for denying the complaint, as required by CVC 40215, and asked that the case be dismissed.

Ross said she would review the statute, analyze the arguments and make her decision. Two days later, another unsigned notification form arrived from PVB. Like the previous notification, it simply said, “the citation is valid.”

CVC statute 40215© (6) requires the examiner to provide the basis for his/her decision to the appellant: “The examiner’s decision following the administrative hearing may be personally delivered to the person by the examiner or sent by first-class mail, and, if the notice (citation) is not canceled, include a written reason for that denial.”

As unanswered questions and apparent violations of the California Vehicle Code accumulated, Stanley Epstein discussed them with both the Finance Department, which oversees the adjudication of citation appeals, and the City Attorney’s office, which is responsible for reviewing all documents, including notification letters sent to parking citation appellants.

He also talked with the regional director of operations for ACS/PVB who told him that the City was notified of changes in the California Vehicle Code that became effective on January1, 2009, but the City did not authorize ACS/PVB to change the notification letters.

Since the state’s Vehicle Code requires that motorists who appeal parking citations be informed of the bases for the City’s denial of such appeals, and Epstein was twice told that the citation was valid, but was not told why it was valid, or given “a written reason for the denial,” the City’s parking citation appeals process was in violation of the state’s Vehicle Code.

The Epsteins called for a full and impartial review to ascertain whether the City and its contractors are and/or have violated state statutes since January 1, 2009, asked that any investigation include the hearing examiner, who is a licensed California attorney, to ascertain whether ticketed motorists’ appeals followed the procedures prescribed by law, and further asked that all notices and procedures be brought into
into compliance with state statutes.
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If appellants were improperly noticed, their appeals denied without explanation, original citations upheld simply because they were “valid,” and fines collected by the City, the Epsteins believed the tickets should be dismissed, and the fines and bail money, if any, refunded, as they were collected in violation of state statute. According to their estimates, the money the City has collected illegally could total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Don Patterson, the City’s Finance Department official who oversees ACS/PVB, said in an email to the Epsteins: “These concerns were reviewed with the City Attorney’s Office, and our current administrative hearing processes and notices meet the minimum requirements of applicable state law…We have been in the process of reviewing and updating various parking-related notices over the past several months … .”

On Monday, May 9, Epstein e-mailed the members of the City Council: “Today’s Bill Bauer column in the ‘Daily Press’ accurately details the actions by the city and ACS my wife and I encountered in contesting a parking citation. City staff will undoubtedly defend its procedures so that it can continue illegally to collect fines from the public. Based on what the City Attorney’s office told Don Patterson, here’s my analysis of why its opinion is totally wrong.
“STATEMENT by attorney Stanley H. Epstein
“The pathetic attempt by City lawyers (in an ‘opinion’ not one word of which has been provided to the public or media) is a bad faith effort to support their advice in 2008 which resulted in daily conduct by the City and its Processing Agency that violates California law and has cost motorists millions in fines that should not have been paid to Santa Monica.

“1. Language of Law: Section 40215 of the state’s Vehicle Code sets up a procedure for contesting parking citations. The motorist first communicates reason(s) why the citation should be dismissed. Under the amendments to the law effective 1/1/09, the City (through its Agent) must do one of two things: cancel the citation or if that’s denied ‘include a reason for that denial.’ This is called the ‘initial review.’ The motorist then can appeal to an independent hearing examiner and following that hearing, the new provision again allows only the same two options, specifically requiring the notice to ‘include a written reason for that denial.’ The City chose to continue sending two (form) notices, neither of which contains the necessary reason for denial of dismissal. They simply say that the citation is not invalidated, which is a conclusion, not a reason.

“2. Intent of Law: Lawyers and judges regularly seek to determine what was in the minds of legislators. Here that exercise is fatal to [City Attorney] Mr. Seltzer’s position. The statute contemplates that City expenditures will be reduced by not requiring a City employee (such as the citing officer) to attend or testify before the examiner or on any appeal to the court. Therefore the City’s position has to be clear in its documented responses to both of those bodies. Consequently, the statute specifically mandates a reason for a denial so the examiner and the judge can carefully evaluate that reason in the case through the documents and testimony by the motorist. Simply saying ‘the citation is valid,’ as the City does twice, gives the trier of fact no information as to what the City is saying in response to the particular claims of the motorist in each individual case. Makes total sense. Furthermore, the motorist is assisted in deciding whether to appeal when the City provides a specific reason countering her statements.

“In conclusion, the City Manager and Finance and Police Departments should have the courage now to discard the lawyers’ unsubstantiated ‘opinion’ which seeks to cover up their original mistake in 2008 and prevent motorists from being reimbursed. To quote from VC Section 40215: ‘The hearing shall provide an independent, objective, fair, and impartial review of contested parking violations.’ The City should guarantee no less.”

None of the Council members responded to Epstein’s statement.

The Epsteins both filed suit in Superior Court, as Mrs. Epstein received the Citation and Mr. Epstein owns the car. The suit asked that the City be required to abide by the state law and either respond to the Epsteins’ request that it state the bases for the citation or dismiss it, and refund her $64 payment.

But when the Epsteins’ research showed that an estimated 16,000 motorists had apparently received the same alleged illegal treatment, they withdrew their suit, and filed a class action suit, and asked for “a writ of mandate,” which would require the City abide by state law and settle with all the people who had been denied due process.
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On May 30, the City issued a press release headlined “City Continues Implementation of Parking System Improvements”

The release said, “Santa Monica, California – The City of Santa Monica’s Finance and Police Departments have been working on a year-long effort to review and improve parking citation and permit systems.

“Recent resident inquiry and press attention has focused on notices to people who contest their parking citations during the appeal process. As a result, the City has reviewed the level of information provided in letters that are sent to the recipient notifying them of the decision. Although the letters provide the minimum information required by law, the City believes that providing additional details with these letters would improve customer service. The notifications sent by the City during the parking citation appeal process now reflect this additional information. The final stage of the appeal process, which is to the Superior Court, is not affected by this change in procedure. Any person who recently appealed a parking citation to the City, and would like additional details regarding why a citation was upheld during the appeal process, can e-mail their request with the citation number to parking.office@smgov.net, and they will receive a response within 10 business days.

“This is the latest in a series of customer service improvements that has occurred over the last year which includes revised parking permit renewals; the ability to renew parking permits online at www.smgov.net/parking; barcoding of permits to allow for efficient verification of permits in the field; and installation of credit-card enabled meters in the public lots along Main St.

“Future planned improvements include continued review of letters and notices to make them more customer-friendly; installation of on-street credit card enabled parking meters; and providing the ability for residents to print one day guest parking permits for preferential parking areas.”

The Epsteins disagree with the City’s assertion that the letters “provide the minimum information required by law,” noting that “the ticket is valid,” the City’s only response to both of the Epsteins’ requests for the bases of the citation, ignores both her request and the law.

A class action complaint asking for a writ of mandate and declaratory relief was filed by attorney Eric Benink in Los Angeles Superior Court on June 6. It alleges, among other things, that “In an effort to maximize revenue and reduce costs, respondents’ practice has been to provide form letters rather than provide individual explanations or reasons as required under law.”

As of the City Council meeting Tuesday night, the City has not responded.


Comments

CLASS ACTION SUIT FILED AGAINST CITY — 18 Comments

  1. I also received a parking ticket in Santa Monica in front of my house.!! Even though I had paid for the permit to park in the street, I forgot that night to put it up on my rear view mirror. I had arrive from a business trip very late night at night and I was so tired that I forgot to put it up.
    I contested the ticket and sent a copy of my parking permit with my license plate on it, to no avail. That hearing with the parking ” Administrator” it’s just a travesty, the city of Santa  Monica knows that most people prefer to pay rather to waste time on hearing, and if you take the time, well they have an Administrator, paid by the city, to listen to what you have to say and decide on the merits of your dispute to the ticket.
    I have lived here in Santa Monica for more than 20 yrs and never so anything like it. Yes, they are over staffed, overpaid, and administrative speaking a disaster, and we have to foot the bill.

  2. I received a ticket for street cleaning  – the only parking ticket I’ve gotten in ages due to my diligence- unfortunately for me- I had been  a good  citizen and attended a city council meeting to stand up for what I see as increasing disregard for the residents of this city- an increasing arrogance and power mad attitude-  almost ‘thug like”-  the meeting went very late- when I got home – the garage door was not working and I parked on the street- – I was quite ill that night and in the morning asked a friend to take me to the emergency room-  when I got back  – I  had a ticket-  sometimes in life there are extenuating circumstances-  as a resident since 1981 who has abided by the law I feel this is one- but what bothers me more is the attitude of Sherri E Ross and her ‘make money by finding everyone guilty” company-  so, I feel its time to resurrect this battle with SM Parking and it’s practices with Sherri E Ross-  this is huge revenue for the city  and her contract  would not be renewed if she didn’t constantly harass and deny all appeals for all reasons- harassing people into caving in and paying instead of fighting it- –  and the contract with Tip Top Towing must be revoked- they are a rogue company-  and the whole set up with them is suspicious-  I have also been terrorized and tail-gated by their trucks tearing around the city breaking speed laws constantly-  it’s a scam to take people’s cars and sell them- and fine them huge amounts- and interestingly- they don’t seem to pick on expensive newer cars- they always go for the guy who looks like they can’t make the bail-  they take two weeks to even let you claim your car- adding up to huge amounts-   enough of these practices by Santa Monica and it’s pet contractors and consultants– meanwhile-  I see tree branches falling all over from the crooked tree consultant they hired who removed healthy trees and planted sick ones-  this city has more staff that is overpaid and what do they do for it- not much it seems since we have so few residents and so many outside contractors and consultants on the payroll- time to unite all of us and stop this waste- Sherri E Ross and her company should be the first to go- if this city cannot handle parking citations- perhaps a new city manager and approach can-   meanwhile- another tree branch fell on 4th Street last week-  and I intend to battle this ticket-  I am tired of cronyism and  more tired of privatization of so many areas that cost the tax payers money and line the pockets of ‘friends of the city” like Sherri E Ross and her bogus thug company-  join in- lets send them packing-

  3. I have received also a parking ticket that should not be issued, I was standing and loading construction material to my car in the space inside the Tarzana Square shopping center next to my shop, which was marked no parking, when I opened up the car door I saw a parking ticket on the windshield, I was surprised, I look around I saw this parking agent is getting to his car I asked him why you gave me a ticket he said that is my spot, I said you see I am loading stuff to my car, and I didn’t park here, he got into his car and left. Two weeks later I have received a Notice of Delinquent parking Violation, on that Notice under the ticket No./ Violation column it said the Violation is NO STOPPING/STANDING, with the wrong address. I wrote a letter to contest that Violation on 20th of Feb. and explained the situation, but a week later they send me another letter that my time to contest is over and they double the fees to $186.00, I need to file a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles. if anyone want to join the suit, please contact any of the above people and let us do something about the unjust fines we are getting.

    My email add: atwmastar@yahoo.com 

  4. I received a bogus parking ticket as well.  They claimed they I had expired tags when they were not expired.  Here is an overview of my evidence:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/barrybond/8392987059/
    After an initial review I was still found guilty so I am now going in for a court date.  My friend had a similar situation and his ticket was dismissed, but he said that he was ordered to pay a $35 dismissal fee.  Has anyone ever heard of this?

    I am very heated about these illegal practices and I am ready to start a movement to fight this.  I already have people willing to fight with me.  I am a video editor and some of the people in my group work in the entertainment industry as well and we are preparing to make a documentary to show how corrupt this system is.  If you would like to be a part of this and submit your case, please contact me.
    my.clist.alias@gmail.com

  5. I got a parking ticket in Culver City at 12:40 am, 9/3/12, which was Labor Day.  The officer mistakenly wrote 9/2/12 on the date.  I filed an “Initial Review” and the response was “sign was clearly visible.”  I filed an “Administrative Hearing” and the response was “sign was clearly visible.”  Here’s where I am frustrated.  When I filed for an Administrative Hearing, I also mailed a picture I took of the meter that read “FREE PARKING No Payment Required.”  The time and date are visible on the picture but still my contest was denied.  Now they want me to drive to Culver City and file a “Civil Appeal.”  They know I live far (east of the 605) so they know the distance might cause me to just give up the appeal process.  Obviously, there is corruption occurring in Culver City and neighboring cities.  Please contact me if you can help.  Thank you.  My email is csetjohn@gmail.com

  6. I am going through the same thing with the city. A bogus parking ticket and a bogus reply when I provided the documents to show that I do have preferential parking sticker. We all need to do something about it, the city has put together the biggest scam to collect funds to balance their budget. All city employees making more than $100,000 a year need to take a pay cut to starters.

  7. Any updates on this case? I am going through the same nonsense, with the city of Santa Monica.  I just received a decision today after I mailed twice my defense statesmen once for initial hearing and once to request a hearing by mail after the initial hearing was of course in favor of the city. They tried every possible way to twist the truth in the favor of the city of Santa Monica. I finally went for a hearing and the judge read my statement and asked me if i wanted to add any thing. I said no. then she told that she will investigate my supporting documents ( shop repair and towing receipt and get back to me). I aks her so why am I here. why no one did that previously? she said that she does not know  and she does not work for the city… LOL. I received the decision today and of course  she found me guilty.  Her statement was twisted  and she even made up a new locations and dates in order to support her wrong decision.   Seriously.. Now I have to Appeal at superior court and pay another $25 dollars/ waste two more days.  what kind of monopoly this is?  I going with the appeal just to see how corrupt this system is. I know the Judge made mistakes on her decision statement but I am wondering if they were done in purpose and if so was that purpose? was it so if i was telling the truth. that appeal court will find her decision invalid due to the error. or was it to simply to judge in favor of the city even by making up stories and made up facts. let’s see if the superior court  is going to justify her error or correct them.  I will keep up dated.

  8. To AFRAID:  Why would anyone hire you when you can’t even spell words like ticket or hired or ethnic? Stop trying to blame everything on reverse discrimination because you are white. Go learn how to write a simple sentence in English. It will help you get a job more than claiming discrimination. How pathetic.

  9. SM PARKING OFFICER HAS GAVE ME ABOUT 3000.00 PARKING TICKE. SOME OF THE TICKES WAS GIVEN WHEM MY CAR WAS PARKED IN PRIVATE PARKING . THE OTHER WAS GIVEN 2 TICKET IN ONE DAY( 8AM, AND 5 PM) IN
    ONE DAY. I CALLED FOR  YEAR , THE CLERKS ARE NOT DOING THE JOB. ONE TOLD ME HE IS GOING TO SEND COMPLAINT, BUT THEN HE DOUBLED THE TICKECT. I COULD NOT TO GET ANY WHER. THE CITY HIRING SO MANY MINORITY WHO ARE ABUSING THE LAW AND GANGIN ON PEOPLE.
    I HAVE TRIED TO GET A JOB WITH CITY FOR MANY YEAR. BUT THEY NEED TO KNOW MY ETHINIC OR WOULD NOT HIRE. AND WHEN I SAY I AM WITHI , STILL AM NOT HIERED.

  10. I got a ticket in Santa Monica for street cleaning violation. The ticket did not include the last 4 digits of my VIN number. Instead, the ticket said VNV (stands for VIN Not Visible). The cops don’t like to take the time to note the VIN, which is required by law to be included on the ticket if it is visible.  I requested a review and raised the defense and included pictures of my car showing the VIN is clearly visible. I also included a copy of another ticket I got in LA on the same day (yeah, it was my lucky day) that included the last four digits of my VIN. What clearer proof could you possible show?
    Of course, I lost. The reason given was “The review has confirmed the citation was properly issued and is valid.  Evidence submitted is not specific or relevant to the parking violation cited”. I guess that’s  Santa Monica’s idea of reforming their crooked ways and giving a reason for upholding the ticket: they just say the same thing but do so in two sentences instead of one.
    I appealed. I submitted evidence showing the VIN was visible and I stated the VIN was visible. Today I got the decision by Ms. Sheri E. Ross. She upheld the ticket and said I did not set forth that the VIN was readable, which is bold faced lie.
    Ms. Ross should be disbarred at this point for willfully violating her duty to fairly administer hearings, and for engaging in a organized scheme to defraud motorists in Santa Monica and violating their civil rights including the right to due process of law. At the very least, she should no longer be permitted to conduct rigged hearings. She has now demonstrated no willingness to conduct hearings in good faith.
    I am going to appeal but the notice says I must file the appeal in person. As I live in San Francisco I want to file the appeal by mailing it in.  Does the Superior Court in Santa Monica really required parking appeals to be filed in person? If so, would someone please file another class action law suit for that, because I have never heard of a court requiring papers to be filed in person, and not by mail. Or is this just another little trick by Sheri Ross and the City of Santa Monica to misinform the public in order to deter citizens from filing appeals? Any thoughts?
    Are there any services I could pay to file the appeal on my behalf?

  11. They are disgusting. I was issued a parking ticket in West L.A. and the first notice I received included a late penalty of 200%. They say they sent other notices, but offer no evidence. I don’t believe that they did as I have received nothing but the final, inflated one. They want 300 dollars and are denying my right to contest even the penalties.

  12. The City of Santa Monica charges ridiculous fees for parking citations — $65 for street sweeping — and doubles the fees when they are paid late.  There is almost no parking for residents who live in old apartment buildings without garages.  They are making a fortune on the backs of people who can ill afford to pay these fees.  Someone should start a class-action suit.  I am sick of this town.  It has gone from the Republic of Santa Monica to Corporateville since I have lived here.

  13. I am going through the same situation with the City of West Hollywood, and this article it is been great to file against them

  14. I have the same problem in San Bernardino CA.  They gave no reason why they upheld the citation and did not ask me why i thought they were in the wrong for the issuance of the ticket.  They say i was parked within 15 feet of a fire hydrant when i wasn’t.  There was no red paint on the curb or any other markings determining the proper distance as was the fire hydrants on the other sided of the street.  I was parked 1 car length away from the hydrant, which was parked in front when i parked but was gone when i came back.  They never asked me what had happened and just indicated “The citation listed above has been reviewed and the determination has been made as indicated.  I am currently fight the ticket because i am tired of them trying to take advantage of motorists with no impunity.

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