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Hawkins v. San Mateo County Law Library

July 16, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan Illston United States District Judge



Homer E. Hawkins, currently in custody at Ironwood State Prison, filed this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a towing service and several county defendants for a due process violation based on the alleged failure to provide adequate notice and a hearing before selling Hawkins' car. The county defendants' motion to dismiss was granted almost a year ago and the only remaining defendant is the towing service. This action is before the court for consideration of the towing service's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants the motion. Judgment will be entered in defendants' favor and against plaintiff.


The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted:

In April 2005, Homer Hawkins was the registered owner of a 1985 Mercedes Benz Model 500, California license number 3AZL346. The registration listed his address as 1965 Manhattan, Apt. # 6, East Palo Alto, California. The 20 year old car had an odometer reading of over 280,000 miles. Hawkins was arrested on April 20, 2005, after a car chase that started at the scene of an alleged burglary from which he tried to flee.*fn1 See Amended Complaint (docket # 7), Exh. A. Gilbert Medrano is an individual doing business in San Mateo County as El Dorado Towing. El Dorado Towing is a tow truck service.

On April 20, 2005, El Dorado Towing responded to a request from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department to tow a vehicle from Manhattan Avenue in East Palo Alto after deputies had arrested Hawkins, the driver of the vehicle. The car was hoisted onto an El Dorado Towing truck and towed to the El Dorado Towing place of business at 2575 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, California.

Thereafter, Medrano was contacted by a woman claiming to be the sister of the car's owner. She requested that Medrano release the car to her. Medrano informed the woman that the Sheriff had not released the car and that, once released by the Sheriff, he would need a signed authorization from the registered owner establishing that the woman was entitled to possession of the car. After that initial encounter, Medrano never heard from the woman. Later, a sheriff's deputy came to El Dorado Towing's lot, retrieved the personal property from the car, and authorized Medrano to release the car. On April 25, 2005, the sheriff's department served a "notice of stored vehicle" on Hawkins at the address on the registration. The notice identified the make and model of the car, the place the car was removed from, the law enforcement officer who authorized the car's removal, and the location at which the car was stored. The notice informed the owner: "You have a right to a hearing to determine the validity of this storage. You may request the hearing at the below location in writing, in person, or by telephone. . . . You must contact the Detective that was assigned to your case which is listed below. Your failure to request or attend a scheduled hearing shall satisfy the post-storage validity hearing requirements of Vehicle Code Section 22852." See Medrano Decl., Exh. A. Hawkins did not request a hearing on the validity of the storage of the vehicle. There is no evidence that he actually received the notice. At the time this notice was sent to his Manhattan Avenue address, Hawkins was in the county jail.

Medrano states, and Hawkins does not dispute, that after receiving authority to release the car, Medrano caused his employee to contact Clear Choice Lien Service, Inc., to initiate a lien sale in the event the owner did not retrieve it. Medrano's declaration states that Clear Choice Lien Service then contacted the California Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") to determine the name and address for the registered and legal owners of the car, received the vehicle registration information, and caused a "notice of pending sale with accompany declarations of opposition" to be mailed to Hawkins at the Manhattan Avenue address as the registered owner on May 6, 2005. Medrano Decl., ¶¶ 8-9.

The certificate of mailing of the notice is attached to the Medrano Declaration as Exhibit C. Medrano states, and Hawkins does not dispute, that before June 6, 2005, neither he nor anyone employed on his behalf was ever contacted by the registered owner or by "anyone else claiming to represent that individual and tendering documentation establishing that the person requesting a release was entitled to possession of the Vehicle, concerning the pending lien sale." Medrano Decl., ¶ 10. Medrano did not receive any indication before the sale that anyone opposed the pending lien sale. Based on the lack of contact from the owner, the fact that the car was 20 years old with more than a quarter million miles on it, and the absence of a follow-up contact from the purported sister after she was informed what she needed to do to retrieve the car, Medrano believed the car's owner had elected to let the car be sold rather than to pay the mounting tow, storage and lien charges to retrieve it. The towing, storage and lien charges exceed $2,600 for the car.

In or about June 2005, the car was sold to a third party for $500, and El Dorado received a certification of lien sale. See Medrano Decl., Exh. D; see also document entitled "All Writ Act" (docket # 42), Exh. D, 28th page (copy of certification signed under penalty of perjury, stating that sale was for $500, and that the sale was made under Civil Code § 3072 after notices of pending sale were mailed to the registered owner and DMV). At no time before the sale of the car was Medrano ever informed by any source that the Notice of Pending Sale, and/or the accompany documents sent by Clear Choice Lien Service were not actually received by Hawkins. At no time before the sale was Medrano notified of the progress of criminal proceedings against Hawkins. At no time before the sale was Medrano provided a physical address for Hawkins other than the Manhattan Avenue address.


Venue is proper in the Northern District of California because the events or omissions giving rise to the claims occurred in San Mateo County, which is located within the Northern District. See 28 U.S.C. ยงยง 84, 1391(b). This Court has federal question jurisdiction over ...

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