State Supreme Court rules in favor of homeless Seattle man whose truck was towed
The Supreme Court of Washington State issued a decision Thursday, ruling that a truck owned by a homeless Seattle man that was towed and impounded by the city was protected under state homesteading laws.
The case dates back to 2016, when Steven Long’s 2000 GMC truck was ticketed and towed for violating Seattle’s 72-hour parking limit. At the time, Long was storing his tools and sleeping in the truck.
The Columbia Legal Center and American Civil Liberties Union then stepped in to defend him in court, arguing that Long’s truck should automatically be classified as his residence under 1800s-era homesteading laws, and because of that, he shouldn’t be subject to parking fines other drivers are required to adhere to. His lawyers further argued that the fines imposed by the city were excessive, and that Long was forced by the city to agree to a payment plan despite not having the means to cover those costs.
After a King County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Long in 2018, attorneys for the city warned that Seattle’s hands would be tied for enforcing parking limits for anyone claiming to live in their vehicle.
A subsequent appeal to the state Supreme Court yielded a new ruling Thursday, largely supporting Long’s claims, with a few caveats.
The court first reaffirmed Long’s homesteading rights, based on a law “intended to provide shelter for families.”
“The act bars the city from towing a vehicle that is occupied as a primary residence and from forcing an individual to agree to a payment plan to prevent that vehicle from being sold at a public auction,” Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez outlined in his concurring opinion. “With these observations, I respectfully concur.”
That also came with some stipulations, with the court at large clarifying that impoundment and parking fines should be enforced on a level consistent with a person’s ability to afford those costs, and that while the payment plan imposed by the city was excessive, a “reasonable fine may still be constitutional and appropriate.”
Additionally, the court pointed out that homestead protections don’t necessarily prevent the city from issuing tickets or impounding vehicles, and instead apply to enforcement after the fact.
“We note that our decision on the homestead act does not call into question the city’s independent authority to impound a vehicle,” the ruling reads.