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Lawsuit: Detroit illegally collected millions in parking fines

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Detroit has illegally collected millions of dollars in parking ticket fines since 2014, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week.

In April 2014, Detroit’s then-emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, issued an order raising ticket fines. The lowest fine was set at $45, and the city began ticketing at the higher rates in the summer of that year.

But the lawsuit contends that Orr’s order “was never enacted or published and never became law.” It points out that the city’s current parking ordinance still lists ticket prices at the lower rates, even after the Detroit City Council made other big changes to it in 2015.

As a result, the lawsuit claims the city collected “millions of dollars in unlawful and unauthorized fines” over the past three and a half years. It asks a judge to bar the city from issuing tickets with the higher fines while the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, moves forward in court.

Attorney Shaun Godwin, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of two plaintiffs who received Detroit parking tickets in 2016, says Orr’s order proposing new rates started but didn’t finish the process of actually changing the city’s parking ordinance.

Even though Orr had tremendous powers to change city policies as emergency manager during Detroit’s bankruptcy, “You still have to follow the steps laid out in the charter for changing the law,” Godwin said.

Godwin said he’s looking to add other plaintiffs to the case, including people who have had cars impounded, driver’s licenses suspended, or traffic ticket debts sent to collections after the new ticket prices took effect.

In addition to the city of Detroit, the suit names Norman White, head of Detroit’s parking department, and Parking Violations Bureau director James Canty as defendants. It also names Duncan Solutions, Inc., a private city parking contractor.

As of December 26, the defendants had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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