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City of St. Louis v. Meier

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) caused the warrantless seizure of a vehicle suspected of involvement in a hit-and-run accident and, with the cooperation of a private towing company, held the vehicle for six weeks to try to leverage an interview with a suspect. The owner of the vehicle brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of St. Louis and the towing company alleging that the defendants’ prolonged seizure of her vehicle without a warrant violated her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants, finding that SLMPD was not responsible for the initial seizure of the vehicle and that the towing company had not acted in concert with SLMPD when it retained the truck pending SLMPD’s authorization to release it. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that the plaintiff had adduced sufficient evidence to preclude summary judgment for the defendants because a reasonable jury could find that the plaintiff’s vehicle was towed and held pursuant to SLMPD’s unwritten but widespread and persistent policy of detaining vehicles without a warrant as an investigatory tool, and that the towing company was a willful participant in SLMPD’s policy.

The City and the towing company filed a petition for certiorari, seeking Supreme Court review, Public Citizen joined as co-counsel for the plaintiff in the Supreme Court and prepared the brief in opposition. On March 30, 2020, the Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari.