LOS ANGELES – In 2020, Joseph Morrissey, a cancer survivor, filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles for violating his due process rights after the seizure and sale of his vehicle while he was recovering from cancer surgery. Represented by Public Counsel and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Morrissey finalized a settlement this month that will provide him $10,000 in compensation, and changes City policy to ensure the City will no longer deny medical-related challenges to parking citations during the time it gives vehicle owners to submit supporting documentation.
“I had seen news reports about this issue for years, but frankly only paid scant attention to the tales of anger and outrage,” said Morrissey. “But then, of course, when it happens to you, attention must be paid. With the good offices of Public Counsel and Kirkwood & Ellis, we arrived at a settlement with the city. But what I mostly wanted was to prevent it from happening in the future. I think we’re on the road to our destination. And that’s change.”
After regularly parking in front of his home in his residential neighborhood for more than six years, Morrissey left his car parked on the street while he was hospitalized for cancer surgery. After unexpectedly spending over a week in the hospital, he returned home to find a citation for failing to move his car. Three days later, while he recovered in his home and was medically prohibited from driving, the City towed Morrissey’s car.
Morrissey immediately contested the ticket and tow, and the City told him to submit documents to support his medical claim. However, just a couple of days later, the City denied his medical claim citing a lack of documents. Because he didn’t have $500 to pay for the towing and impound fees, the City sold his car at a lien sale. Mr. Morrissey lost access to his car – and his main form of transportation to medical appointments – during his recovery.
“Thanks to Mr. Morrissey’s courageous efforts to contest this injustice, we have secured a crucial policy change that will prevent other Angelenos from being harmed by the city at a time when they are most vulnerable,” said Nisha Kashyap, staff attorney with Public Counsel’s Consumer Rights and Economic Justice project. “Taking a person’s vehicle has rippling consequences for their mental and physical well-being, and the city’s previous policy disproportionately impacted low-income residents and drivers with disabilities or medical emergencies that restrict their ability to move their cars.”
“The last thing a person struggling with a medical condition or disability should have to worry about is whether the city will seize and sell one of their most valuable possessions,” said David Horowitz, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. “We are thrilled that we reformed the City’s towing practices to prevent this from happening to others and secured redress for Mr. Morrissey to compensate him for this awful ordeal.”
The policy change codifies an LA Superior Court injunction granted on October 14, 2021. Judge James C. Chalfant ordered the City to stop the practice of denying medical-related challenges to parking citations during the time it gives vehicle owners to submit supporting documentation. Morrissey’s settlement ensures the City will continue this policy change on a permanent basis.
Public Counsel continues to advocate for equitable, common-sense towing reforms to help ensure Angelenos have reliable transportation to school, work, and medical care.
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About Public Counsel: Founded in 1970, Public Counsel is the nation’s largest provider of pro bono legal services, utilizing an innovative legal model to promote justice, hope, and opportunity in lower-income and communities of color in Los Angeles and across the nation. Through groundbreaking civil rights litigation, community building, advocacy, and policy change, as well as wide-ranging direct legal services that annually help thousands of people experiencing poverty, Public Counsel has fought to secure equal justice and opportunity for all for more than 50 years.
About Kirkland & Ellis: Kirkland & Ellis is an international law firm with more than 2,700 attorneys representing clients in private equity, M&A and other complex corporate transactions, litigation and dispute resolution/arbitration, restructuring, and intellectual property matters. The Firm operates from 15 offices around the world: Beijing, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, Paris, San Francisco, Shanghai and Washington, D.C. Kirkland is committed to providing legal services without charge to those who cannot afford counsel, with the goals of improving lives, bettering communities and deepening our attorneys’ professional experience. Kirkland attorneys at all levels pursue pro bono matters dealing with a variety of issues such as immigration, disability rights, civil rights, prisoner rights, death penalty cases and criminal appeals, guardianship, veterans’ benefits, and the representation of nonprofit organizations, among other areas. In 2019, Kirkland attorneys devoted more than 164,000 hours of free legal service to pro bono clients. Learn more about Kirkland’s commitment to pro bono and corporate social responsibility at www.kirkland.com/CSR.