Persistance Pays Off In Mistaken Boot Tampering Incident
Woman Gets $750 Refund After Red Tape Over Yellow Boot
A “surprise” is what Megan Nolan and her young family came back to after flying into Midway and walking back to the parking lot to find a bright yellow metallic boot adorning their car nearly two weeks ago.
It is not uncommon for unwary drivers with outstanding unpaid parking tickets, especially those from outside Chicago proper, to find their car booted after parking in any of the airport parking lots at O’Hare and Midway. In some ways it’s like shooting fish in a barrel and boot crews assigned to airport parking immobilize a lot of vehicles.
Tired and aggravated, Nolan waited by the car with her daughter while her husband Andrew walked the two blocks to the Midway payment office. Both Midway and O’Hare have payment offices open 24 hours a day for drivers to pay their tickets to get a boot released.
Nolan thought she they’d have to pay a few hundred bucks at most to pay for the pair of unpaid tickets and the boot fee to have their car released.
She knew the drill. Having had her vehicle booted twice before about a decade ago, before moving to the far western suburbs back in 2004, she was grudgingly resolved to just paying up and getting on the road home.
“I had been booted a long time ago,” explained Nolan. “I just paid my tickets. I didn’t yell. Didn’t scream. I just paid what I owed.”
But the Nolans got a jolt when the city told them, in addition to the two outstanding parking tickets and boot fee, the city was looking for an additional $60 boot fee and a $750 fine for tampering with a boot on an immobilized vehicle that was allegedly theirs back in 2010–a $810 shock.
Tampering With A Boot Can Be Costly
Of course it is illegal to tamper with or damage city property. When it comes to the Denver boot, Chicago imposes a stiff $750 fine on drivers who figure out how to pry the wheel lock from their tire and drive away. If a tow truck driver assigned to pick up an immobilized vehicle which has sat unpaid for 24 hours finds the car has disappeared, it’s considered “Gone On Arrival” or GOA.
That was the status Nolan’s vehicle was tagged with when it was booted at Midway.
Nolan’s husband tried to explain to the cashier that they had not been booted back in 2010, nor had they ever owned a gray Honda Civic, the vehicle make in question. Megan Nolan added she was 9 months pregnant on the date in question and had given birth to her two year old son a few days after the alleged date and there was no way she would have been able to remove a heavy boot in her state.
Too bad, pay up, the city said.
The Nolan’s were stuck.
They were told they could have a hearing at any of the three Administrative Hearing locations in the city, but couldn’t take their vehicle until they paid the entire $1054.00. If they left their vehicle it could be towed to a city auto pound where another $160 or more fees would be assessed.
Exhausted from traveling, with a crabby child and a memorial funeral service they needed to attend a few days later, they paid the full amount vowing to challenge the city’s boot tampering fine at a more convenient time and place.
Getting The Runaround
Megan Nolan began her quest to get her refund a few days later by first calling the Chicago Department of Finance. They told her she had to have a boot hearing at a city administrative hearing facility. But she would need proof that the car booted in 2010 was not hers and recommended she go to the Illinois Secretary of State for documentation.
After going to two SOS locations in the suburbs and getting somewhat of a brush off by a state employee or two, she persisted until she convinced a sympathetic manager to produce a printout on Secretary of State letterhead documenting every vehicle her license plate had adorned over the years.
Armed with this irrefutable evidence Nolan was confident her frustrating situation was nearly over as she strode into the city’s Central Hearing Facility in the River North neighborhood with her two year old son in tow.
But things did not get better according to Nolan. During her hearing, the Administrative Law Judge told her he couldn’t give her a hearing on the GOA as he only had ability to adjudicate on parking tickets, red light camera tickets and boot hearings and despite her tearful protests, sent her back to the Department of Finance but not without even more evidence to support her case.
The hearing officer gave Nolan paperwork revealing the last 4 digits of the Honda Civic’s VIN #. Nolan was then able to compare that number with VIN # for all her vehicles and none of them matched–further proof it was not her car that had been booted and some sort of mistake had been made.
After waiting in line at the DOF Payment Center, Nolan was assisted by sympathetic cashiers who had never come across someone trying to fight a GOA. Because of the unique nature of the situation, they made a call “upstairs.” to get some assistant from a manager. With her two year old losing patience due to hunger and exhaustion, DOF staff told Nolan that someone would contact her in a few days.
Surprisingly, a Department of Finance manager did contact her within a few days. But again, bad news. According to Nolan despite the Secretary of State proving the vehicle wasn’t hers and the fact the VIN # on the car in question was different the manager still didn’t believe her.
“I told them it was not my vehicle. Then they asked me if my plates had been stolen, but I told them I still had my plates on my car,” said an exasperated Nolan. “They kept saying ‘How do we know you didn’t put them on another car’. They were accusing me of putting my plate on a different vehicle. That’s what they were implying. They said ‘You have no proof that those were not your plates.’”
“Let Me Make A Few Calls”
The Expired Meter received Nolan’s lengthy account of her booting odyssey a few days later.
“I’m in need of help in a HUGE way…”, her email letter began. “I’ve done everything possible to prove that this was not my vehicle. If it’s something I didn’t do, I won’t be responsible for that.”
After confirming some of Nolan’s story by phone, The Expired Meter began making calls downtown.
Department of Finance Holly Stutz promised to look into it this last Friday, and called later in the day to explain the files for a boot from 2010 were in storage, but she should have them at the beginning of the week.
On Monday, Stutz had good news.
After receiving the records of the 2010 boot, the DOF finally realized there had been a mistake, the GOA was placed on the wrong license plate and Nolan was going to receive a refund on her credit card for $750.
“The GOA was incorrect,” said Stutz explaining a single digit on a license late had been transposed. “On her license plate there was a 9 and a 4 on the other plate which got transposed. We’ve already refunded the amount to her credit card.”
Stutz says even though boots go missing from immobilized cars much more often than you would think, mistakes in GOAs are rare at best.
“It doesn’t happen very often,” explained Stutz. “I have never heard of this happening. Because we keep such stringent records our staff expected the GOA to be legit. We were all surprised because it happens so infrequently. We apologize to Megan for charging her the wrong amount.”
Nolan was understandably ecstatic when we called her Monday morning with the good news.
“Yes!,” yelled Nolan into the phone. “I’m happy. I almost started crying when you told me because of all the stress. No one believed me. I’m happy, relieved and overwhelmed.”
While Nolan is happy about the the refund on the GOA, she is still pursuing getting the boot fees refunded as well.
If the GOA was improperly placed on her car, logically, the corresponding boot fee should not be charged either. In addition, Nolan believes the most recent $60 boot fee is improper as well. According to Nolan, despite changing the address on her vehicle registration and driver’s license with the Illinois Secretary of State years ago when she moved to the suburbs, the notices for vehicle immobilization were sent by the city to her previous address on Chicago’s Northside. It’s for this reason Nolan believes this most recent boot fee should be refunded as well.
As of publication, the Department of Finance has not made a decision in regards to these additional fees.