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February 13, 2007
McKenna Announces Settlement with Seattle Business that Ticketed Parked Cars

SEATTLE – Attorney General Rob McKenna today announced a settlement with a Seattle company accused of making misrepresentations in the course of offering parking lot monitoring services to local businesses. The Attorney General’s Office alleged that Parking Enforcement Services, Inc., misrepresented its authority to enforce trespassing laws, operated in a way that deceived people as to the company’s authority to act as law enforcement, and offered an illusory “appeal” process to individuals who disputed fines.

Parking Enforcement Services and company owner Brian O’Toole did not admit to any wrongdoing but agreed to pay up to $50,000 to consumers as part of the settlement filed Monday in King County Superior Court. The money will be used to refund individuals who paid for tickets they disputed through the company’s appeal process. As part of the settlement, the company also agreed not to make efforts to collect on any unpaid tickets issued before the date of the settlement.

“While property owners need to be able to control unauthorized parking in their lots, Parking Enforcement Systems lacks the statutory authority granted to law enforcement entities to issue ‘parking tickets’ and should not have been representing that it had this right,” said Attorney General Rob McKenna.

All property owners are permitted to tow unauthorized vehicles from their lots. Existing statutes and ordinances allow tickets to be issued to vehicles parked in paid lots, but don’t address tickets on lots where no fee is charged.  {UPDATED FOR CLARIFICATION:  While private companies don't have statutory authority to issue parking tickets or citations in the way law enforcement officers do, they can request payment for parking on private property. The signage on private lots needs to be clear about what is considered unauthorized parking and what happens to unauthorized parkers. The Attorney’s General’s Office alleged that the signs displayed by Parking Enforcement Services were inadequate.}

“Because Parking Enforcement did not have a rational appeal process, our office received nearly 60 complaints from vehicle owners since 2004,” McKenna added.

The Attorney General’s Office’s sued Parking Enforcement Services and O’Toole in January, alleging violations of the state Consumer Protection Act. The company provides parking monitoring services for businesses and apartment complexes. Property owners do not pay for the services; instead, the company makes a profit by collecting on tickets issued to vehicles. The company identifies vehicle owners through state Department of Licensing records.

The company posts signs on lots it monitors indicating that “unauthorized and improperly parked vehicles will be ticketed and towed.” According to the Attorney General’s suit, defendants sometimes misrepresented that they were authorized by the city or state to issue such tickets.

Tickets issued by the company stated that the fee is $65 but small print on the reverse side indicates that the fee is actually 50 percent if paid within 14 days. Senior Counsel Shannon Smith said the tickets did not adequately disclose the amount of the fee being asserted.

The Attorney General’s Office alleged that the company represented that unpaid tickets would be turned over to collection agencies, but really had no intention to do so, and misrepresented its ability and intention to impact consumers’ credit record for failure to pay.

The state alleged that the company’s appeal process for those who feel they have been wrongly ticketed was based on arbitrary criteria.

 “Appeals were rarely granted by defendants, even when there was a substantial reason to believe the ticket was issued an error,” Smith said. “They asserted the right to collect on a ticket even through the vehicle model and color described on the ticket didn’t match that of the license number registered with the state. Another individual who had proof that her car had been stolen at the time the ticket was issued was denied an appeal.”

Fines were also issued to individuals who parked in handicapped spaces, even after drivers proved they were authorized to park there.

Under the settlement, Parking Enforcement Services and O’Toole must not misrepresent their authority to act as law enforcement, including representing that they are authorized to enforce trespassing laws or issue parking “tickets” or “citations.” They are also forbidden from making any misrepresentations in order to collect payment for parking or attempting to enforce contracts without adequately disclosing all terms.

The defendants agreed to pay $10,000 in civil penalties, suspended on compliance with the settlement terms. Failure to honor the settlement could result in additional penalties of up to $25,000 per violation.

Additional Materials:

Parking Enforcement Services Complaint

Parking Enforcement Services Consent Decree

Consumers with questions about the settlement should contact the Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-551-4636.

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Media Contacts: Kristin Alexander, Public Information Officer, (206) 464-6432

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