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Oregon Consumer Law: Parking Tickets, Tax Collectors, Weekend Tow Jobs, and a “Notice of Tort Claim” Appeal

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There are excellent consumer law websites all over the web, but sometimes you just need the local touch and a local story. This is because a lot of consumer law is local, that is, you need to know state and local law, practice, and procedure in order to determine your rights.

I love this story – and it is so familiar to a public law librarian: many, many people come into the law library to ask, “Where and How Do I Appeal?”

Complete answers to questions people ask are often as elusive as it almost was here for Laura Gunderson – and kudos to her for persistent research, which is often exactly what one has to do – persist, persist, persist. But you can see why legal solutions so often elude those without the aptitute, resources, and time to pursue fairness, if not justice.

You can also see how the best intentions can go awry, also common amongst us ordinary people who make simple, human mistakes, as if judges never forget to pay parking tickets and police officers never make unsignaled lane changes. (They do.)

Read on about how unpaid parking tickets led to a hefty fine and an undeserved tow – and the kooky state practice of notifying counties on a MONTHLY basis that tickets have been paid. (Who thought that up? Isn’t that what computers are for – automatic and regular communication updates?)

Oregonian “Complaint Desk: Help for Frustrated Consumers has an illustrative “consumer law” story to tell – and very interesting it is!

Fighting a parking-ticket and tow? The Desk knows where to go,” by Laura Gunderson, The Oregonian, August 28, 2010:

Excerpt:

“…Turns out, when two parking tickets are forgotten at the bottom of a purse, the recipient eventually hears from the Oregon Department of Revenue. The state acts as the collection agency for other government entities, including Multnomah County Courts.

The Desk had two such tickets, which after being doubled twice, totaled $226. When the letter from the state arrived, on a Monday in late May, The Desk called up and paid the amount in full.

When asked whether anything else should be done, the state representative said no. She didn’t mention that tag warrants can be issued for outstanding tickets. Tag warrants can lead to a tow.

The representative also didn’t mention that the state alerts the county when parking tickets have been paid only on a monthly basis, not in real time. So although the bill was paid in late May, the courts wouldn’t know until late June. (The Desk found out later that someone paying such a fine can ask the state to more quickly notify the courts that it’s been paid.)

You can see where this is going.

That following Friday, The Desk was a little late getting to a parking meter and found the car was gone….

Of course, the original tickets mentioned nothing about appealing a tow.

Grrr. This back-and-forthing went on for a few phone calls. Hearings office insisting it wasn’t its deal. Courthouse insisting it wasn’t its, either. Just file an appeal with the city, one court representative advised, and “be vague.”

The Desk was dubious but game. The appeal was filed and, within a few weeks, not surprisingly denied by the towing hearings officer with a helpful explanation: “The City of Portland Hearings Office has not been given the authority to hear appeals of these tows. You may wish to contact the Circuit Court for further information.”

Taking the deep breath necessary with nearly every issue it looks into, The Desk exhaled and tried again.

After sharing the news from the towing hearings officer, court representatives dug deeper. They recommended filing a “Notice of Tort Claim,” or rather a threat that you’ll sue, to the Multnomah County Courts administrator….” (Link to full story — also from the Oregonian Complaint Desk.)

Research Note: Begin your “Tort Claims, Public Bodies” research in the ORS – start with the Index. (Oregon lawyers may also write about the subject, e.g. When Government Does Wrong.)

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