CHICAGO (CN) – Repo men “breached the peace” by towing a repossessed vehicle down the street, doors wide open, with the owner and her daughter inside, a federal judge ruled.
When Rosalind Smith defaulted on a loan in 2010, AFS Acceptance hired Equitable Services to repossess her car.
Smith’s daughter, Rashai, tried to thwart repossession by jumping into the car as Equitable was hooking it up to a tow. The repo men raised the rear of the vehicle while Rashai was inside and started to move out of the driveway, disregarding Smith’s cries that they could not tow the car with her daughter inside.
Smith then jumped into the car as well, but the tow continued out of the driveway and down the street with the car doors open and both women inside.
Police officers called to the scene ordered the agents to stop towing the vehicle and return it to the driveway.
Smith and her daughter sued AFS and Equitable for violating Illinois’ Repossession Statute, willful and wanton behavior, and emotional distress.
U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo refused to dismiss some of the claims Friday after finding that the towing company contributed to breaching the peace.
“Plaintiffs have put forward sufficient allegations concerning a ‘breach of the peace’ to survive a motion to dismiss,” Bucklo wrote.
“Equitable makes much of the fact that the plaintiffs themselves played a role in any breach by first jumping into the vehicle, but totally fails to address the fact that its own employees continued to tow the vehicle down the street with the two women in the back. In addition, they did so with a group of people yelling at them to stop,” she added (emphasis in original).
The judge also held that “the conduct alleged – towing two women down the street with the doors opened – is sufficiently outrageous in nature as to constitute a basis for recovery under intentional infliction of emotional distress. There is no suggestion that the tow truck operators were unaware of the women’s presence in the vehicle, and thus the most likely explanation of the agents’ behavior is that they intended to severely frighten the women.”
“I acknowledge that the two women jumped into the car, likely in an attempt to stop the towing,” the 11-page decision concludes. “A reasonable person could conclude, however, that what followed on the part of the towing agents was ‘extreme in degree.’ As Equitable points out, the tow truck operators arrived at the scene with the ‘legitimate’ goal of repossessing the vehicle. However, a defendant’s ‘reasonable belief that his objective is legitimate does not provide a defendant carte blanche to pursue that objective by outrageous means.'”