N.C. Supreme Court agrees to hear Chapel Hill towing, cell phone cases

tgrubb@newsobserver.comNovember 8, 2013 

— The N.C. Supreme Court said Friday it will hear a case involving the town’s towing ordinance and ban on cell phone use while driving.

The case started in 2012 when George’s Towing and Recovery filed a lawsuit after the cell phone rules took effect. The towing rules were scheduled to begin in June, but Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson stopped the enforcement of both rules May 2.

In August 2012, Hudson rejected the towing rules as an unconstitutional regulation of trade and said the town doesn’t have the authority to enact a cell phone ban.

The town appealed that decision to the N.C. Court of Appeals. It ruled in June that the towing rules, which capped fees and required signs in tow zones among other measures, were a valid use of the town’s power to protect the “health, safety, or welfare of its citizens.”

The court also upheld the town’s cell phone ban but did not rule on the issue of whether the town has the authority to enact such a ban. The court instead said the case would have been more appropriate if a tow-truck driver had been cited for violating the ban and challenged that case in court.

The town’s cell phone ban, as written, would only be enforced if a driver is stopped for another violation. A driver using either a handheld or hands-free device behind the wheel would pay a $25 citation.

An attorney for towing company owner George King then appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court put the town under a temporary stay and court injunction that prevents it from enforcing either rule. Both sides now will file documents supporting their cases. The hearing will be scheduled for a later date.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt has said he is looking forward to hearing what the Supreme Court has to say following a Cabarrus County decision last year that North Carolina towns only have the authority the legislature gives them.

The court’s decision will further clarify that ruling and will have far-reaching effects in Raleigh, Durham, Asheville and other cities with similar rules, Kleinschmidt said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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