CHICAGO (CN) – A class action filed Thursday accuses Chicago of refusing to repay residents money it collected from illegally issued duplicate vehicle-related tickets.
Brought by lead plaintiffs Orlando Jones and Rodney Shelton, the Cook County Circuit Court lawsuit says the city has been giving residents who don’t have a city vehicle sticker or whose registration is expired more than one ticket a day, violating its own municipal code.
“City sticker violations are one of the priciest tickets motorists can get in the city, the cost of which increased by 67 percent as part of the city’s 2012 budget,” according to the lawsuit filed by attorney Jacie Zolna with Myron Cherry & Associates.
The penalty for not have a sticker – which is required for all vehicles used in the city – is $200, and can rise to $488 with late and collection fees.
“The reason the city does this is simple: money,” the complaint states. “The more citations it issues the more revenue it generates.”
According to the Chicago Reporter, the city doled out $162 million in vehicle-related tickets and $87 million in late fees in 2017.
The complaint also cites a study by ProPublica Illinois that found unpaid ticket debt is causing a spike in bankruptcy in Chicago, with residents filing for Chapter 13 to avoid losing their cars or licenses.
If they don’t pay up, they could be hit with garnished wages, vehicle seizures and liens.
Minority communities have been hit the hardest, according to the lawsuit, receiving a disproportionate amount of the duplicate citations.
Despite the city claiming it was taking the issue seriously, the plaintiffs argue “this was all lip service.”
“The city hammered its most vulnerable citizens with illegal and duplicative tickets, falsely assured the public that it would remedy the situation, then stiffed affected motorists and kept all of the illegal fines and penalties for itself,” the complaint states.
Kristen Cabanban, Chicago’s director of public affairs, said that “for the past several months, the city has been working on developing a plan to address instances of duplicate tickets and offer refunds to affected motorists.”
Chicago’s legal department said it had not received the lawsuit and therefore could not comment on it, but a statement issued by the city says that “between 2007 and 2018, duplicate tickets represented less than one percent of all issued city sticker violations and less than one tenth of one percent of all issued parking violations. Motorists who receive tickets in error can and have always been able to contest them.”
The city also said it dismissed thousands of duplicate sticker violations going back to 1992, and thousands more paid tickets are eligible for a refund. It also said it plans to upgrade its technology to “identify and preemptively dismiss multiple tickets issued on the same day.”
The plaintiffs and proposed class are suing the city for unjust enrichment and seek a court order requiring it to issue refunds and clear debts for duplicate tickets issued.