Court rules in favor of Chicago in seized car case

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court holds that when a person’s car is impounded and the person files for bankruptcy, it is not mandatory to return the car immediately.

In an opinion announced Thursday, Judge Samuel Alito unanimously ruled that the “mere retention” of a debtor’s property by a creditor does not violate the law.

The case involves several people whose cars were impounded by the city of Chicago, who then filed for bankruptcy in hopes of getting their vehicles back.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote separately about the situation for George Peake, whose Lincoln MKZ car was impounded in 2018 for non-payment of parking tickets and a red light. Sotomayor highlighted the “excessively common” situation Peake found himself in.

“Drivers from low-income communities across the country face similar vicious cycles,” he wrote, in which a driver is fined that he cannot pay, creating a spiral of back fees until his vehicle is impounded. Without good transportation to work, bankruptcy often follows. Sotomayor said that despite the court ruling, bankruptcy courts can facilitate the return of the vehicles. And he added that Congress could pass a law to that effect.

Only eight judges participated in the case, because it was heard in October, after the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg and before the swearing-in of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.