By on June 9, 2011

A US district court judge ruled Tuesday that James B. Ferrari had a point when he sued Suffolk County, New York over its seizure of his 2003 Ferrari 360 Spider. Ferrari was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) in the city of Bellport on May 26, 2009. That gave county officials an excuse to grab a car that sold for $190,000 when new.

“Ferrari is not the most sympathetic plaintiff, to put it mildly,” Judge Joanna Seybert wrote, overruling the county’s motion to dismiss the case. “But the Due Process clause protects everyone — even repeated drunk drivers. Here, Ferrari has adequately pled that Suffolk County violated his due process rights.”

The accusations against Ferrari were significant. Police claim he drove 100 MPH, crossed a double-yellow line, admitted to the officer that he had consumed alcohol and was on thirteen prescription pills. Ferrari helpfully pointed to drug paraphernalia during the stop, saying, “The crack pipe’s mine.” Ferrari also had a very long list of past traffic violations.

The Fourteenth Amendment states that nobody can be deprived of their property without due process of law. In Suffolk County, vehicle owners who have not been convicted of any crime are offered “retention hearings” to challenge the vehicle seizure. A 2002 federal appellate case, Krimstock v. Kelly, articulated the need for such a hearing to establish the necessity and legitimacy of continued retention of a vehicle.

“In direct defiance of both the Fourteenth Amendment due process requirements articulated in Krimstock and the Suffolk County Code, the defendants herein knowingly train, and/or deliberately permit, the hearing officers who ‘preside’ over retention hearings to deliberately and systematically refuse to comport with the requirements of due process,” Ferrari’s lawyer argued.

The procedure in Suffolk County is merely to establish the validity of the initial arrest and then leave it up to the vehicle owner to prove a hardship that would justify the car’s return. In 2004, a jury ruled against Suffolk County on this very point. Although Judge Seybert was merely ruling on a procedural motion and not coming to a final decision, it is clear Suffolk County is going to have a hard time winning the case. Seybert blasted the retention hearing conducted on June 9, 2009 by Justice John DiNoto.

“At no time did Justice DiNoto take issue with, or even acknowledge, the county’s multiple, flagrant misstatements of the law,” Seybert wrote. “Beyond the per se violation stemming from Justice DiNoto’s failure to issue a Krimstock-complaint ‘statement of findings,’ other due process concerns scream out from the face of hearing transcript. Instead of trying to meet its Krimstock/Canavan burden, the county instead spent the hearing enunciating one erroneous legal principle after another, from a bizarre effort to shift the burden, to a nonsensical interpretation of Krimstock as ‘dicta.'”

Seybert found it “quite plausible” that DiNoto impounded the Ferrari because he misunderstood the law and acted in an irrational manner. The judge also found little merit in the county’s attempt to argue that keeping the Ferrari would prevent Ferrari from driving drunk again because he had another vehicle at his disposal.

“Indeed, if impounding his Ferrari causes Ferrari to instead drive his Land Rover, impoundment might actually undermine the county’s interest in protecting public safety,” Seybert wrote. “After all, holding other factors equal, the basic ‘laws of physics’ dictate that the much larger, much heavier Land Rover would do much greater damage in a collision than the lighter, smaller Ferrari.”

The case can now go to trial. Ferrari is seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages. A copy of the order is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Memorandum and Order (US District Court, Eastern District New York, 6/7/2011)


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14 Comments on “New York: Ferrari Sues Over Seized Ferrari...”

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    If he has that much money, in a place where the cops can steal his car, maybe he should be leasing?

  • avatar

    Would it really be that hard to wait on confiscating the car until after a conviction? It doesn’t even seem like a conviction would be that hard to get, under the circumstances.

    • 0 avatar

      And by that right do you confiscate a $190,000 car for a crime in which nobody was injured or any property damaged? Maybe they should take your house for jaywalking?

      • 0 avatar

        You’re right, people should be free to drive a hundred miles per hour in the oncoming lane while drinking liquor and smoking crack, as long as they happen to not hit anyone that time. What’s next, if someone starts playing Russian Roulette with other people’s heads you’re going to say that they have no right to confiscate his revolver?

      • 0 avatar

        Exactly right. The initiation of the practice of confiscating vehicles was a cash grab from day 1, in the disguise of “doing what’s best for the community,” and neatly protected by a group no one in politics is suicidal enough to stick up for: drunk drivers.

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        @Kane: If that’s the case, why not simply shoot anybody who blows a 0.10 or higher?

      • 0 avatar

        Why shoot them? Make them play Russian Roulette, with an extra round chambered for, say, each 0.05 they blow over 0.10. You wouldn’t fill all six until 0.35, where they’d likely be dead of alcohol poisoning anyway.

        After all, if there’s a chance that nobody will be hurt, it’s not a real crime, right?

      • 0 avatar

        aristurtle, I am OK with punish the DUI drivers with heavy fines. But the penalty must be clearly stated in the law. If the fine is exactly $190k, it’s OK. But did other DUI drivers got fined that much? Would those people’s house be seized if they are unable to pay the fine?

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        Keep It Simple, Stupid.

        It the cop can get the breathalyzer to show .10 or higher, he gets to shoot the perp.


      • 0 avatar

        Why is it that some people are such empty vessels, eagerly awaiting whatever fashionable dogma is leaking out of Soros’ rectum that day? The same people who would stand in the rain to protest the death penalty administered to a serial child rapist and murderer would tie the knot to Lynch a drunk driver. Pathetic.

      • 0 avatar

        On the contrary, wsn, car seizure adds in a neat little automatic income scaling. If you set the fine to something like a few thousand dollars, the kind of guy who owns a Ferrari 360 doesn’t have any real penalty; he probably spent that much on drinks and cocaine beforehand. If you set the fine to $190K, then Joe Average loses his house. But if you assume that people will usually drive cars whose value is based roughly on their level of wealth, you end up with a mostly-equal fine for Ferrari drivers and Geo drivers alike.

        The part that’s unfair is seizing the car based on a mere arrest rather than a conviction after trial.

        edit: who the hell is Soros? Is he that guy that you dittoheads think is in charge of the Illuminati or whatever?

  • avatar

    It can be argued that seizure laws turn law enforcement into a profit center and, as a result, justice goes out the window.

    To quote the Firesign Theatre, “Help! It’s the police!”

  • avatar

    Bad cases make bad law or something like that. This is one of those times when both sides deserve to lose,

    • 0 avatar


      I have a strong personal dislike of dui drivers; however, I also have a strong dislike of asset seizure when it most definitely can not be shown that the asset was the direct product of an illegal activity (e.g. seizing a criminal’s house and car which were bought with the proceeds of an illegal enterprise).

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