Settlement Reached in Civil Rights Lawsuit

September 08, 2014  


Elisa Della-Piana
East Bay Community Law Center                 

Amber Burke
O’Melveny & Myers LLP

OAKLAND, CA – September 8, 2014 The City of Oakland towed and sold Oakland resident John Wendt’s beloved antique truck even though it was legally parked, insured, registered, and operable. Mr. Wendt sued the City of Oakland and B &B Vehicle Processing for violation of his constitutional rights, including Fourteenth Amendment due process protections and Fourth and Fifth Amendment property protections, and for conversion. Now the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) and O’Melveny & Myers LLP have settled the suit on behalf of Mr. Wendt for nearly US$70,000.

In March 2011, the City of Oakland and its towing contractor, B & B Vehicle Processing, unlawfully towed Mr. Wendt’s classic 1972 Chevrolet K5 Blazer truck from the driveway of his landlord’s property. Mr. Wendt, a single dad, bought the truck to repair and give to his young son when he turned 16, and he had spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars refurbishing it. They towed Mr. Wendt’s truck under an Oakland ordinance permitting abatement tows of abandoned or inoperative vehicles. Yet the truck was registered, insured, and in good working condition.

After the tow, Mr. Wendt made numerous attempts to regain possession of his truck. He requested abatement and tow hearings, filed a complaint with the Oakland Police Department, and sought assistance from the Oakland City Council and various legal organizations. All of these efforts proved unsuccessful. In May 2011, B & B Vehicle Processing sold Mr. Wendt’s truck to a wrecker, and the wrecker claims it was subsequently destroyed.

“I am happy I found EBCLC, and I am elated that EBCLC and Christina Brown [at O’Melveny & Myers] stuck by me when no one else would,” Wendt said upon receiving his check last week.

With help from the East Bay Community Law Center and pro bono counsel O’Melveny & Myers LLP, Mr. Wendt filed suit, seeking the return of his vehicle or damages, restitution of unlawful gains, and attorneys’ fees. Under the terms of the settlement, the City of Oakland has paid Mr. Wendt US$69,750, and it is considering changing its policy around “abatement tows” of allegedly abandoned vehicles.

“Ideally lawsuits like this one would not be necessary,” said Elisa Della-Piana of the East Bay Community Law Center, who has worked with Mr. Wendt since the beginning of his case. “But when there are insufficient checks on police power, it harms residents like Mr. Wendt and raises serious questions about the equity of our systems of governance.”

“We know there are other Oakland residents like Mr. Wendt, who have attempted to follow the City’s procedures and yet have lost their vehicles in abatement tows. We hope the result in Mr. Wendt’s case will lead to improvements in the City’s notice and hearing practices more broadly,” said Christina Brown, who led the effort for O’Melveny & Myers.

About the East Bay Community Law Center
The East Bay Community Law Center provides free legal services to eligible East Bay clients. Since its founding in 1988 by law students at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, EBCLC has become the largest provider of free legal services in the East Bay. EBCLC’s Neighborhood Justice Clinic offers legal assistance to low-income residents in a wide range of cases, including citation defense, consumer protection, debt collection defense, identity theft, small claims, and DMV issues, among many others. To learn more about EBCLC, go to www.ebclc.org.

About O’Melveny & Myers LLP
With approximately 750 lawyers in 16 offices worldwide, O’Melveny & Myers LLP helps industry leaders across a broad array of sectors manage the complex challenges of succeeding in the global economy. We are a values-driven law firm, guided by the principles of excellence, leadership, and citizenship. Our commitment to these values is reflected in our dedication to improving access to justice through pro bono work and championing initiatives that increase the diversity of the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.omm.com.