Key Decisions

October 2012 – Impounding An Unregistered Vehicle

(filed under: Key Decisions Archive | October 24, 2012)

Other Cases Of Interest

The Right To Travel, To Be Free From Unreasonable Seizures And To Due Process Do Not Preclude Police From Impounding An Unregistered Vehicle Being Driven By An Unlicensed Driver

Halajian v. D & B Towing
(Cal. Ct. of App., 5th Dist.), filed September 4, 2012

Barry Halajian was an electrical contractor who specialized in industrial construction. He described himself as a “free inhabitant of the California Republic” as indicated in the 1849 Constitution of the California Republic, section 4 of Article IV of the Constitution of the United States, and Article IV of the Articles of Confederation.

Halajian was stopped by police for driving his pickup truck without proper registration. He was also unlicensed. Halajian told the police that he had returned the vehicle registration and his driver’s license to the Department of Motor Vehicles because he realized that all licensing is for commercial use of the road and that he was not using it for commercial purposes.

The police called D & B Towing to impound Halajian’s truck.

D & B Towing would not release the truck until Halajian paid storage charges on it. Halajian paid the storage charges and received his truck.

Halajian sued D & B Towing for (1) wrongfully withholding his truck, for 38 days and (2) requiring him to pay $1,385 before releasing it. D & B Towing filed a demurrer, arguing that the pickup truck had been lawfully impounded by the sheriff’s department and lawfully towed and stored. D & B Towing also argued that, under California statute, Halajian had no right to immediate possession of the truck until he paid the fees required for its release.

The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend based on its conclusion that the D & B Towing’s actions were legal and, therefore, Halajian was unable to state a claim for recovery.

Halajian appealed, arguing that the seizure of his truck violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures, his constitutional right to travel and his right to due process. He also argued that the California Vehicle Code’s licensing and registration requirements were misapplied to him and his noncommercial use of the truck. Halajian asserted D & B Towing was responsible for knowing the law and, thus, should have recognized these violations of his rights and the resulting illegality of its possession of his truck.

The Court of Appeal affirmed. In the published portions of its opinion, they concluded that the sheriff’s department’s impounding of the truck did not violate Halajian’s right to travel, was not an unreasonable seizure, and did not misapply the Vehicle Code to his noncommercial use of the truck. In an unpublished portion, the court concluded that Halajian’s due process rights were not violated. Thus, D & B Towing’s possession of the truck did not continue a wrongful seizure or confiscation of the truck. In addition, D & B Towing stored and released the truck in accordance with applicable law. Consequently, D & B Towing committed no wrong and could not be held liable for damages.