In January 2010 we listened in as the Supreme Court of Texas heard oral arguments in the case of City of Dallas. v. VSC, LLC, which is now close to a decade old. To sum up: In '02, tow company VSC was in possession of 326 cars the Dallas Police Department said had been "reported stolen, had been involved in car-jackings, or had altered serial numbers." At which point the police department drove down to VSC's storage facility and took the cars without compensating the tow company -- because as far as DPD was concerned, they were evidence, case closed. DPD eventually sold the cars and pocketed the dough-re-mi.
VCS argued that DPD couldn't just take -- and sell! -- the cars they'd rightfully towed, especially 47 vehicles that became the very specific subject of this litigation. The court of appeals said: You know, you've got a point there. At which point the city took the case to the state Supreme Court.
So, now, to the results: On Friday, Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and five of his colleagues told VCS it's outta luck:
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We expect our government to retrieve stolen property and return it to the rightful owner. What happens, though, when a person claims an interest in property the government has seized? In this case, the City of Dallas seized vehicles, which it alleged were stolen, from a company that was entitled to petition for their return. ... Instead of pursuing its statutory remedy, the company sued, alleging that its interest in those vehicles had been taken without just compensation. We hold that the availability of the statutory remedy precludes a takings claim. We reverse the court of appeals' judgment and render judgment dismissing this suit.
But Justice Dale Wainwright, backed up by two fellow justices, disagrees:
I would hold that there are fact questions as to whether and how the City disposed of the vehicles at issue and affirm the trial court's denial of the plea to the jurisdiction. I therefore respectfully dissent.
Read his opinion here. Quick, before someone snatches and sells it.