City of Chicago v. Fulton, No. 18-2527 (7th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Chicago's Code permits the city to immobilize and impound a vehicle if its owner has three or more “final determinations of liability,” or two final determinations that are over a year old, “for parking, standing, compliance, automated traffic law enforcement system, or automated speed enforcement system violation[s].” Fines range from $25 to $500. Failure to pay the fine within 25 days automatically doubles the penalty. After a vehicle is impounded, the owner is further subjected to towing and storage fees and to the city’s costs and attorney’s fees. A 2016 amendment created a possessory lien in favor of the city in the amount required to obtain the vehicle's release. Chicago began refusing to release impounded vehicles to debtors who had filed Chapter 13 petitions. In each of four consolidated cases, the bankruptcy courts each held that Chicago violated the automatic stay by “exercising control” over bankruptcy estate property and that none of the exceptions to the stay applied. The courts ordered the city to return debtors’ vehicles and imposed sanctions for violating the stay. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that it addressed the issue in 2009 and held that a creditor must comply with the automatic stay and return a debtor’s vehicle upon her filing of a bankruptcy petition.