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Bivens v. Salt Lake City Corp.

Supreme Court of Utah

September 26, 2017

Timothy Bivens, Michelle Reed, and Anthony Arias, Appellants,
v.
Salt Lake City Corporation, Mayor Ralph Becker, and Salt Lake City Council, Appellees.

         On Direct Appeal Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Robert P. Faust No. 140904155

          R. Shane Johnson, Mark S. Schwarz, Bruce R. Baird, Salt Lake City, for appellants

          Margaret D. Plane, Salt Lake City, for appellees

          Justice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Durham, and Justice Pearce joined.

          OPINION

          HIMONAS, JUSTICE

         INTRODUCTION

         ¶ 1 About six years ago, the tech revolution reached Salt Lake City's parking meter infrastructure. In response, the City switched from Industrial-era, coin-operated, single-space parking meters (where each parking space had its own meter) to a postindustrial system of multi-space, credit-card-ready parking pay stations. But the City did not immediately update its code to reflect this change. Instead, until the middle of 2014, Salt Lake City Code defined a parking infraction by reference to the old meters:

No person shall park any vehicle in any parking meter space . . . without immediately depositing in the parking meter contiguous to the space such lawful coin or coins of the United States as are required for such meter and designated by directions on the meter . . . .

Salt Lake City Code § 12.56.150(B) (2010) (amended 2014).

         ¶ 2 And it described a "parking meter" as a machine designed so

that the deposit of a coin or coins will set the mechanism of the meter in motion . . . so that the meter will show the unexpired parking time applicable to the parking meter space contiguous to the meter, and the meter, when such parking time has expired, shall so indicate by a visible sign.

Id. § 12.56.150(A).

         ¶ 3 The plaintiffs in this putative class action lawsuit- Timothy Bivens, Anthony Arias, and Michelle Reed-all received parking tickets between 2011 and 2014, when the City had already installed pay stations but still defined parking infractions by reference to parking meters. But, with one exception, the plaintiffs did not challenge their parking tickets. Instead, they paid their fines. They then sued the City, alleging two claims. First, they alleged that the City unjustly enriched itself by fining them for failing to use a parking meter at a time when there were no longer any parking meters in Salt Lake City-only pay stations-but the City had not yet proscribed parking without paying at a pay station. Second, they alleged due process violations: (1) the City failed to give adequate notice of the procedures for challenging parking violations, (2) a provision of the City Code "requiring assessment of an attorney fee in enforcement actions conflict[s] with state law, and [is] thus unenforceable, " and (3) the City created a quasi-judicial process-"hearing officers" located in the City's Finance Division-for challenging parking violations that the City Code did not authorize.

         ¶ 4 We conclude the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim that the City's notices violated due process. Although they contained misstatements that trouble us, they were sufficient to apprise the plaintiffs of both their right to challenge their parking tickets and their opportunity for a hearing on that challenge. And this holding is fatal to the plaintiffs' equitable enrichment claim as well as their due process challenge to the attorney fees assessment provision of the City Code. Because the plaintiffs had adequate notice of their right to challenge their parking tickets-including their right to argue that they had not committed any offense defined in the City Code-it was incumbent on them to pursue that challenge through the available procedures for contesting a parking ticket. But, with one exception, the allegations reflect that the plaintiffs did not exhaust their legal remedies before seeking to challenge their tickets through an equitable action.[1] Because of this, the plaintiffs have waived any challenge to the attorney fees provision, and they have also failed to state an equitable enrichment claim.

         ¶ 5 Accordingly, because the plaintiffs have failed to state any claims, we affirm the district court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' suit.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶ 6 Because this is an appeal from dismissal under rule 12(b)(6) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, we accept all of the plaintiffs' allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in their favor. See Hudgens v. Prosper, Inc., 2010 UT 68, ¶ 2, 243 P.3d 1275; Brown v. Div. of Water Rights, 2010 UT 14, ¶ 10, 228 P.3d 747.

         ¶ 7 Between 2011 and 2014, Timothy Bivens, Anthony Arias, and Michelle Reed all received tickets for failing to pay to park. Each of their parking tickets stated they owed a fine of $15. The tickets further stated this fine would increase if it was not timely paid: if the motorists waited until after ten days had elapsed, but paid within 11 to 20 days, they would owe $55; 21 to 30 days, $85; and 31 to 40 days, $125. The tickets also provided a phone number and email address to obtain additional information, and they, albeit somewhat misleadingly, explained how motorists could contest their tickets: "To discuss your Parking Notice, you must see the Hearing Officer in person within 10 calendar days from the date of this notice at the Salt Lake City & County Building at 451 South State Street, Room 145." (In fact, a motorist has twenty days to challenge a ticket, not just ten.)

         ¶ 8 Only two of the plaintiffs-Mr. Bivens and Ms. Reed- attempted to challenge a ticket. In keeping with the instructions on their tickets, they both contacted a hearing officer to discuss whether their ticket was valid. In each case, the hearing officer determined their challenge was meritless and provided them with a "Small Claims Court Information" document.

         ¶ 9 The Small Claims Court Information document stated that the next step in a challenge to a parking ticket was to appear in small claims court. It further stated that the small claims court judge would "only hear evidence regarding your parking/civil notice and related violation." By contrast, "[i]f your complaint is regarding a problem with the way an area is marked, whether or not you feel the ordinance is valid and should be changed or how you were treated by the issuing officer, the courtroom is not the proper place for those types of complaints and [they] will not be addressed by the judge." The Small Claims Court Information document warned that, in the event the judge found in favor of the City, the court might impose a filing fee and up to $175 of attorney fees. It also warned that "[a] judgment will appear on your credit report and will affect your credit rating for 8 years."

         ¶ 10 Like the tickets, the Small Claims Court Information document contained misstatements and omissions. Even though, at the time, parties had up to thirty days following entry of a small claims judgment to appeal, the document stated that "[e]ither party may appeal a small claims judgment within 10 days after the Notice of Entry of Judgment is received by the losing party." See Utah Code § 78A-8-106(1) (2015).[2] Both the tickets and the Small Claims Court Information document also failed to inform their recipients of their legal right to seek a hearing in justice court as an alternative to appearing before a hearing officer or as a defendant in small claims court.

         ¶ 11 Mr. Bivens and Ms. Reed pursued different courses of action after receiving the Small Claims Court Information document. According to the amended complaint, Ms. Reed "considered challenging the notice in small claims court, but ultimately opted against risking the additional expenses outlined in the Small Claims Court Information document." She "ultimately paid the notice 16 days after receiving it, and the City increased the fine amount to $55 in that time."

         ¶ 12 Mr. Bivens, by contrast, retained an attorney to challenge his ticket. According to the amended complaint, the attorney "challenged the validity of the ordinance, but the small claims case was decided in Bivens' favor on unrelated grounds." When Mr. Bivens received subsequent, additional parking tickets, he "opted to simply pay the fines for subsequent notices rather than invest significant additional time, risk incurring exorbitant costs if he should not prevail, and risk the possibility of having his vehicle towed or immobilized if he receive[d] an additional notice in the meantime."

         ¶ 13 Thus, with the exception of Mr. Bivens's one successful challenge, none of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit sought to avail themselves of the procedures outlined on their ticket and in the Small Claims Court Information document. Nonetheless, the plaintiffs have now filed a putative class action lawsuit, seeking to recoup all costs associated with parking violations between 2011 (when the rollover from parking meters to pay stations was completed) and 2014 (when the City Code was updated to reflect that change).

         ¶ 14 The plaintiffs' lawsuit centers on two related problems with the City's approach to parking violations during the putative class period. First, the plaintiffs allege an "unjust enrichment/equitable refund" count against the City. According to the plaintiffs, between 2011 and 2014, the City continually fined motorists for failing to pay for parking at parking meters, even though the City had replaced all parking meters with pay stations. But, according to the plaintiffs, when the City replaced the parking meters with pay stations, parking without paying ceased to be an infraction. This is because until 2014, the City Code only required motorists to "immediately deposit[] in the parking meter contiguous to the [parking] space such lawful coin or coins of the United States as are required for such meter and designated by directions on the meter." Salt Lake City Code § 12.56.150(B) (2010) (amended 2014). It further defined a "parking meter" as a mechanical device that is "immediately contiguous to a parking meter space" and "indicates unexpired parking time for the adjacent parked vehicle." Id. § 12.56.140(A). And it described the parking meter as a machine designed so

that the deposit of a coin or coins will set the mechanism of the meter in motion or permit the mechanism to be set in motion, so that the meter will show the unexpired parking time applicable to the parking meter space contiguous to the meter, and the meter, when such parking time has expired, shall so indicate by a visible sign.

Id. § 12.56.150(A).

         ¶ 15 According to the plaintiffs, while the old parking meters are covered by this definition, the new pay stations are not. The new pay stations are not "immediately contiguous to a parking meter space"; instead, they control multiple parking spaces per block. They also do not "indicate[] unexpired parking time for [any] adjacent parked vehicle[s]." Nor do they indicate when the time has expired. And they are not mechanical devices ...


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