SW Legal studies in Business

Immobilizing Illegally Parked Car Not Trespass to Personal Property
Description

Appeals court held that the owner of a parking lot had the right to put a boot on an illegally parked car on its lot, so as to immobilize the car and force the owner to pay a fine to have the boot removed. To do this was not a trespass to the personal property of the owner of the car.

Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words

Trespass to Chattel; Constructive Possession; Privilege; Parked Car

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Kirschbaum parked his car in a private parking lot run by McLaurin Parking. The lot was clearly posted that it was reserved for restaurant parking after 6 pm. During the day, the spaces were rented to people who parked in the lot while at work. Kirschbaum left his car at noon to eat in the restaurant. While he was in the restaurant, the person who leased the space Kirschbaum was parked in discovered his space was taken. He called the security guard who put an immobilization device (a boot) on Kirchbaum’s car and a note to call security to have the boot removed once a $50 fine was paid. Instead, Kirschbaum removed the wheel with the boot attached, put on the spare tire, and drove away with the boot still attached to his wheel and tire. Security called the police, who called Kirschbaum. He later returned the boot to the police and then sued McLaurin for trespass to chattel (his car) by putting the boot on it. He contended that the sign in the parking lot was not clear that patrons of the restaurant could not park in the lot during the day and that they had deprived him of the right to use his car freely. The trial court dismissed the suit. Kirschbaum appealed.

Decision

Affirmed. To satisfy a claim for trespass to chattel (personal property), a plaintiff must show that he had either actual or constructive possession of the goods in question at the time of the trespass and that there was an unauthorized, unlawful interference or dispossession of the property. Kirschbaum had at least constructive possession of his car when the boot was put on the car. McLaurin was privileged to attach the boot to the car to protect its right to exclusive possession of the lot, so putting the boot on was not an unlawful interference or dispossession of property, so was not a trespass. Furthermore, the state legislature has specifically authorized private parking lot owners to place boots on unauthorized vehicles.

Citation

Kirschbaum v. McLaurin Parking Co., ---S.E.2d--- (2008 WL 426079, Ct. App., N.C., 2008)

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