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N.H. Towing Case Goes To U.S. Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court will hear one of two recent cases from New Hampshire this week.

A Honda Civic and a towing company are the focus of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing set to begin Wednesday. New Hampshire resident Robert Pelkey sued Dan’s City Auto Body after they towed and traded his car without his consent or compensation. University of New Hampshire Law School professor, John Greabe, says the case is unusual.

It’s not a case where there’s tons and tons of money at stake. It’s a dispute between somebody whose car was towed away from the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lived while he was in the hospital against the towing company; and one doesn’t usually expect that sort of case to go before the supreme court.

Graebe and other U.N.H. Law faculty recently held a “moot trial” practice session for Robert Pelkey’s attorney.

I played one of the supreme court justices with four other lawyers.

Under the state's Consumer Protection Act, Pelkey has the right to sue the towing company for the value of the car and triple damages. The law could be preempted by the Federal Aviation Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAA), which governs trucking companies. Greabe says that if the court finds that the federal law applies,

...he’s out of luck. He doesn’t have a provision to sue under because there is no provision of the federal statute that would permit him to recover the value of his vehicle.

The United States reviewed the case, and the U.S. Solicitor General’s office will argue in favor of the state law.

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