Local News

Chapel Hill to appeal judge's halt of towing, cellphone ordinances

Posted August 22, 2012 9:00 p.m. EDT
Updated August 22, 2012 11:29 p.m. EDT

towing, tow truck

— Chapel Hill town leaders met Wednesday to discuss their plans to appeal a judge's ruling that struck down town ordinances banning the use of cellphones while driving and regulating towing companies.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson issued permanent injunctions on both ordinances, ruling that state laws governing the use of cellphones in cars supersede the town's ordinance and that the town's towing rules violate the state constitution.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said Wednesday that not having towing rules in the town is "absurd."

George King, a local towing company operator, sued the town when it adopted an ordinance in February that requires tow zones to be properly marked, sets fees towing companies can charge, requires them to accept credit or debit card payment, mandates that they inform police before towing any vehicle and prohibits impound lots from being located more than 15 miles from town.

"The legislature cannot regulate trade or business by a local law," said King's attorney, Thomas Stark.

The ordinance was passed in response to concerns about predatory towing practices in the town. Kleinschmidt said he hears many complaints about unreasonable prices for towing, among other things.

Stark, however, said prices – which range from about $100 to $300 – are fair. Still, since the ordinance passed, King set a standard fee of $180 for towing. 

A month after passing the towing rules, town leaders voted to ban the use of cellphones, including hands-free devices, for all drivers. The ban was set to take effect June 1, but Hudson issued a temporary restraining order in May to block enforcement of it.

His recent ruling made that order permanent. 

Kleinschmidt said the case could prevent other cities and towns in North Carolina from implementing towing rules.

"This order has broad-reaching effects, way beyond the borders of Chapel Hill," he said.

In a closed-door meeting Wednesday night, town leaders reached consensus on appealing the towing ruling and voted 6-3 to appeal Hudson's decision on the cellphone ban.