How a $900 parking citation became a $25,000 federal lawsuit against SF 

click to enlarge Plaintiffs in a $25,000 lawsuit against The City, the SFMTA and the Police Department say a vehicle parked on Second Street was displaying a disabled placard that absolved the driver of paying a parking meter. - CINDY CHEW/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Cindy Chew/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Plaintiffs in a $25,000 lawsuit against The City, the SFMTA and the Police Department say a vehicle parked on Second Street was displaying a disabled placard that absolved the driver of paying a parking meter.

Two San Francisco residents, one of whom is disabled, are furious with what they see as an unjust parking ticket, and they have taken their complaint to federal court.

The lawsuit -- which was served Sept. 12 to The City, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and one of its citation review officers, and the Police Department, its chief and the officer who issued the citation -- claims the Feb. 16 parking ticket was unlawful.

Although the fine has been greatly reduced, the plaintiffs have decided to press on with their complaint.

Plaintiffs Patrick C. White and Amelia Kalnoki parked their Infiniti SUV at 625 Second St. in South of Market in an unpainted, gray curb spot with a regular meter while they stopped at their office nearby, the complaint states. Before leaving the vehicle, White, who was driving, hung passenger Kalnoki's disabled-parking placard on the rearview mirror, which exempts them from paying the meter.

When White and Kalnoki returned "shortly after they initially parked there," according to the complaint, they found a parking citation on the windshield for purportedly parking in a disabled-parking space, not curbing their wheels and parking at an expired meter.

The lawsuit alleges that the parking spot, based on the official city map and grid, has 0.18 percent slope "which could not be detected by the naked eye." The City's ordinance requires motorists to curb their front wheels when parking on a slope with a 3 percent grade or higher. Other parts of the street have a grade that exceeds 3 percent, but the spot White and Kalnoki parked in did not have a 3.09 percent grade as the violation stated, according to the complaint.

Kalnoki, who suffers from advanced systemic lupus erythematosus, used a disabled placard that allows her to park the vehicle transporting her at any disabled spot or regular parking space without paying the meter. The $880 parking ticket "was in bad faith, and was a grave violation of a disabled person's constitutional rights," the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs filed a petition for review with the SFMTA in March and were denied, and the fine was increased to $908, with "additional illegal threats of Mr. White losing his driving privileges, forfeiture of his vehicle, legal action against him and garnishing of his wages," according to the lawsuit.

"Since this citation exceeded all the bounds of human decency, and since Plaintiffs had been issued other similarly unlawful parking tickets in the past, they decided to bring the instant legal action to address the despicable and discriminatory conduct of the San Francisco city employees in dealing with the public," states the lawsuit, which exceeds $25,000 in damages.

It does not appear that the plaintiffs went through the full protest process, SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said. They stopped at the administrative review stage, he said, while other options include an administrative hearing and going before the Superior Court.

"It is important to remember there are administrative options available to anyone wishing to contest a parking citation without the need to file a federal lawsuit," Rose said.

Gabriel Zitrin, a spokesman for the City Attorney's Office, said the lawsuit struck him as "highly unusual."

"Some of it is very extreme -- 'Intentional infliction of emotional distress in federal court'? I'm going to say that has likely never happened," said Zitrin, referring to one of the claims. "We're pretty confident in saying we don't think the lawsuit has any merit. And we think that the court will dispose of it pretty quickly."

But in a letter to White dated the day before the complaint was filed, the SFMTA removed two of the three violations on the citation, citing a clerk's data entry error, and waived the $880 fine and late penalties. A correct decision letter would be mailed with the remaining $58 violation for parking on grades.

The plaintiffs said they intend to continue with their original lawsuit, claiming that others have been unlawfully cited in similar situations.

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Bio:
Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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