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A Non-Home-Rule Municipality Must Have an Explicit Statutory Grant of Authority to Impound a Vehicle in Illinois

In Hayenga v. City of Rockford, the Illinois Appellate Court addressed a city’s authority to impound a vehicle in Illinois. In concluding that the city could not lawfully impound the vehicle, the Court relied on the distinction between home rule and non-home-rule municipalities. The upshot? A non-home-rule municipality must have an explicit statutory grant of authority to impound a vehicle. In Hayenga, the non-home-rule city had no such authority — despite the combination of a local ordinance and a section of the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code prescribing impoundment procedures.  

The Facts of Hayenga v. City of Rockford, 2014 IL App (2d) 131261

In January of 2013, the Rockford police pulled over Matthew Wiseman for a burnt-out license plate light. After pulling Wiseman over, the officer noticed several guns in Wiseman’s backseat. He then searched the car and found marijuana paraphernalia. As a result, the officer arrested Wiseman and impounded the car he had been driving. The car did not belong to Wiseman, but to his girlfriend, Theresa Hayenga, who brought an administrative action to fight having to pay for the costs associated with the towing and impounding of her car.

In the Hearing and at Trial

At the administrative hearing, the City of Rockford argued it had the authority to impound the vehicle under the Rockford Code of Ordinances § 17-41(a)(12). Ms. Hayenga argued that, although the ordinance addressed the fees and procedures related to impounding a vehicle, it did not authorize the impounding itself, and therefore the administrative costs assessed against her were improper. The City also argued that § 17-41(a)(12) authorized the impoundment because it mirrored Illinois Vehicle Code §11-208.7(b)(12), which authorizes the collection of costs and fees related to the proper impounding of a vehicle. The administrative officer agreed with the City that § 17-41(a)(12) authorized it to impound Ms. Hayenga’s car.

Ms. Hayenga appealed to the district court. The trial court found that § 17-41(a)(12) “does not enable [the City] to impound the Plaintiff’s vehicle.” The appellate court agreed with the trial court, holding that Section 11-208.7 did not authorize the impounding of a vehicle but rather only provided for a fee and a process for “properly impounded” vehicles.

See the full opinion in Hayenga v. City of Rockford.

Home-Rule v Non-Home-Rule

Central to the decision in the Hayenga case is the fact that the City of Rockford is a non-home-rule unit of government. What does that mean?

Home rule is essentially the right to self-govern in areas that are uniquely local in nature. In Illinois, home rule municipalities “may exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs including, but not limited to, the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare; to license; to tax; and to incur debt” without specific statutory authority (ILL. CONST. art VII § 6(a)).

However, the City of Rockford in this case was a non-home-rule municipality; which means it fell under Dillon’s Rule.

What is Dillon’s Rule?

Dillon’s Rule provides that municipalities have only those powers expressly granted by the Illinois Constitution or by statute.

Reading of Statutes and Ordinance

Rockford Code of Ordinances Section 17-41(a)(12)

Sec. 17-41. Administrative fees and procedures for impounding vehicles for specified violations.

(a) The city, in addition to any fees charged for the towing and storage of an impounded vehicle, shall impose on the registered owner of the motor vehicle or the agents of that owner, a reasonable administrative fee related to its administrative and processing costs associated with the investigation, arrest, and detention of an offender, or the removal, impoundment, storage and release of a vehicle for the following violations: * * *

(12) Operation or use of a motor vehicle in the commission of, or in the attempt to commit, any other misdemeanor or felony offense in violation of the Criminal Code of 1961 when so provided by local ordinance

Section 11-208.7 of the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code

§11-208.7. Administrative fees and procedures for impounding vehicles for specified violations.

(a) Any municipality may, consistent with this Section, provide by ordinance procedures for the release of properly impounded vehicles and for the imposition of a reasonable administrative fee related to its administrative and processing costs associated with the investigation, arrest, and detention of an offender, or the removal, impoundment, storage, and release of the vehicle. The administrative fee imposed by the municipality may be in addition to any fees charged for the towing and storage of an impounded vehicle. The administrative fee shall be waived by the municipality upon verifiable proof that the vehicle was stolen at the time the vehicle was impounded…

The court in Hayenga concluded that these provisions established fees and procedures for vehicle impoundment. But the provisions did not, themselves, give the non-home-rule City of Rockford the authority to impound vehicles.

Alternative Bases for a Non-Home-Rule City’s Authority to Impound a Vehicle

After the trial court ruled in Ms. Hayenga’s favor, the City filed a motion to reconsider, this time saying, “that it had authority to impound Hayenga’s vehicle because Wiseman was arrested for a Class A misdemeanor (720 ILCS 600/3.5 (West 2012)); the vehicle was on a ‘highway’ within the meaning of section 11-1302(c)(3) of the Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/11-1302(c)(3) (West 2012)) (authorizing towing a vehicle after an arrest); and section 109-1(a) of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/109-1(a) (West 2012)) mandated the police to arrest Wiseman and transport him to the Winnebago County jail ‘without unnecessary delay.’”

The trial court denied the motion, noting that a new theory of the City’s position did not supply a proper basis for reconsideration. The City appealed, but the appellate court of the Second District agreed with the trial court. Therefore, other statutes, like the ones cited in the City’s motion to reconsider, might support the City’s authority to impound vehicles if properly raised at the administrative hearing.

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact an attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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