The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday March 24th

Supreme Court hears Chapel Hill's towing, cellphone cases

Ask George King who he’s fighting for at the North Carolina Supreme Court today, and he’ll tell you anyone with a cellphone that drives through Chapel Hill.

King, who owns George’s Towing and Recovery, is at the center of a controversy that started when the Chapel Hill Town Council passed a modified towing ordinance requiring tow operators to post clear signs near tow zones, to alert police when they tow a vehicle and to not tow vehicles more than 15 miles outside of Chapel Hill.

Story so far

The town’s towing ordinance has drawn criticism since its passage in 2012:

  • May 2012: The town’s towing and mobile phone ordinances are supposed to go in effect. George King files an injunction against both bans.
  • August 2012: Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson ruled both bans unconstitutional.
  • June 2013: The N.C. Court of Appeals rules in the town’s favor.
  • March 2014: The Supreme Court will hear King’s case today.

That ordinance was supposed to go into effect in 2012.

That same year, the town outlawed the use of cellphones while driving, fining drivers $25 for using their phone while driving.

Towing companies said the two ordinances contradicted each other — tow operators were required to tell police when they towed a vehicle but they couldn’t use a cellphone while driving to do so.

King filed an injunction against both bans, which was approved by Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson in August 2012.

“Thanks to George’s Towing, you’re still able to use your cellphone while you’re in a vehicle,” King said.

“If it weren’t for us, the city would have taken your rights completely away from you. Most people have taken it for granted because it did not go through.”

In his decision, Hudson called both bans unconstitutional declaring them void and unenforceable.

After the town of Chapel Hill appealed Hudson’s decision, the North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed his decision.

The Court of Appeals found the towing ordinance actually protects Chapel Hill residents and the mobile phone ordinance does not threaten King’s ability to do business.

Now the case sits before the highest court in the state, and King said he can’t believe his fight has come this far.

“It’s amazing how one person can stand up and make a difference,” he said. “We’re not only fighting for us, we’re fighting for all the property owners and anyone with a cellphone who comes to Chapel Hill.”

The Supreme Court will hear from both sides today at 9:30 a.m. but will not make a decision today.

In his brief before the Supreme Court, King argues the Chapel Hill Town Council cannot regulate his business.

“They cannot regulate a trade, it’s against the Constitution of the United States,” King said. “They don’t run the companies, they don’t know what the costs are.”

But the Town Council says it has the right to protect its residents from what it sees as predatory towing practices.

Council member Lee Storrow said he thinks the court will rule in the town’s favor when it comes to regulating towing.

“I absolutely expect the Supreme Court will affirm the town of Chapel Hill’s right to regulate towing,” he said.

In the town’s brief before the Supreme Court, Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos argued that the towing ordinance was well within the scope of the town’s delegated powers from the state because it was created to further protect residents.

“It’s absolutely legal and constitutional for towns to regulate towing,” Storrow said.

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