Persistance Pays Off In Mistaken Boot Tampering Incident

Woman Gets $750 Refund After Red Tape Over Yellow Boot

After a long and tiring airplane trip, the last thing you want to be waiting when you land is a surprise.

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.

11 Responses to Persistance Pays Off In Mistaken Boot Tampering Incident

  1. Way to go Megan. Never give up

  2. Pete says:

    This woman should be able to sue the city for punitive damages. She spent a lot of time dealing with this crap, and where is Chicago’s incentive to reform if it doesn’t cost them anything to be wrong?

  3. DoR Employee says:

    Nice Job Geek!

  4. The Geek never gives up!

  5. napdaddy says:

    In Chicago, if your offense generates income, you’re guilty until proven innocent.

  6. Greg says:

    A couple of years ago I was wrongly towed. Armed with photos proving it was wrong, I had a hearing and the hearing officer easily agreed with me. I was suppose to get the tow refund in 2 weeks. It took 6 MONTHS of similar runaround to get my refund.

  7. dio says:

    When I make a mistake the city fines me (so I can learn my lesson) and I also pay the costs associated with that mistake. Why doesn’t the city pay for their mistakes? How are going to learn from their mistakes?

  8. The Parking Ticket Geek says:

    Dio,

    Well said.

    I believe I could make a strong argument that the city pay the driver a fee when a parking ticket is dismissed. The fee would help offset the wasted time and energy drivers have to go through to prove they didn’t do what the ticket writer is alleging.

    I’m sure it would go nowhere, but…

  9. Earl Toadman says:

    You almost get the feeling that incompetence is designed into the system to make more money. Call me cynical, but when these sorts of clerical “errors” usually result in people just paying instead of fighting, I find it hard to believe that doesn’t incentivize such “errors.” I come back to me standard rule of thumb in such matters, “it’s always somehow even worse than you could have possibly imagined.”

  10. jo says:

    Not surprising! Stupid government workers, they shouold all be fired. Good luck finding a real job.

  11. Megan says:

    Hi all!
    Thank you for your support and comments. The story made it all the way to ch 5 last night at the ten o clock news. Everyone worked hard to try and Eli me get the money back. At the end of the day it’s 750.00 back. Frustrating in part that on the city website it says if you are booted but have not received notification. You do not have boot fees etc. the city was sending all notices to my address in the city I haven’t lived at in ten years. They are supposed to contact the secretary of state office to update your info. Amazing that all of the various offices including your ipass are all on different computer systems. It would make to much sense to be on one. Our expired meter was able to tell my full story. Something 90 sec on the news can’t. I appreciate both so much. I couldn’t believe the lack of humanity within the hearing judge and people around the office. Only one kind woman in the dept of rev listened and tried to help before getting pushed down and told I owed more money by her superiors. I get you may not enjoy your job but when you stop listening and lose your ability to care. That’s on you, that’s your problem for sticking in an unhappy job and failing to produce positive influence on the people around you. Some day I promise to drive back down and say thank you to the one woman that listened. I continue to thank the expired meter and robin with NBC news. Thank you for reading, listening and supporting this mom in the burbs!!!
    Meg

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