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Washington Impound Law Does Not Bar Conversion Action

The En Banc Washington State Supreme Court held that the statutory process for redeeming impounded vehicles is not an exclusive remedy. As such, the court held that a person whose vehicle is unlawfully impounded may bring a conversion action against the impounding authority.

"Mark Potter was cited for driving while license suspended (DWLS) on two separate occasions in two different vehicles." On both occasions, the Washington State Patrol (WSP) denied Potters' request to allow a family member to take control of his vehicles, and impounded them.

Unable to pay the towing and storage fees, Potter could not redeem his vehicles and the towing company auctioned them off.

After Potter's vehicles were sold at auction, the Washington Supreme Court declared WSP's impound policy invalid because it exceeded WSP's statutory authority by designating impoundment as mandatory, rather than permissive. See: In re Impoundment of Chevrolet, 148 Wn.2d 145, 159, 60 P3d 53 (2002).

Potter filed a state court class action lawsuit against WSP, alleging that WSP unlawfully converted his vehicles by impounding them pursuant to the mandatory impound policy that the Supreme Court invalidated.

The trial court granted WSP's motion for summary judgment, "concluding the WSP had the authority to impound the vehicles and, therefore, its exercise of authority was 'privileged and renders it not liable for conversion.'"

The Washington Supreme Court reversed, holding that summary judgment was inappropriate because the WSP's conduct was not privileged. See: Potter v. Wash. State Patrol, 161 Wn.2d 335, 342, 166 P3d 684 (2007). WSP sought reconsideration because the Court did not address whether RCW 46.55.120 barred Potter's conversion claim.

On reconsideration, the Court held that "the common law claim of conversion was not abrogated by the legislature because the legislature did not intend for the redemption procedures set forth in RCW 46.55.120 to be the exclusive remedy for unlawful impoundments." As such, the court held that "Potter may bring a conversion action against the WSP for unlawfully impounding his vehicles." See: Potter v. Washington State Patrol, 196 P.3d 691 (2008).

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Related legal case

Potter v. Washington State Patrol