New York: Ferrari Sues Over Seized Ferrari

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper
new york ferrari sues over seized ferrari

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.

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


Join the conversation
3 of 14 comments
  • Bunkie Bunkie on Jun 09, 2011

    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!"

  • MikeAR MikeAR on Jun 09, 2011

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

    • Lumbergh21 Lumbergh21 on Jun 09, 2011

      +1 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).

  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…
  • Mike978 Wow 700 days even with the recent car shortages.
  • Lorenzo The other automakers are putting silly horsepower into the few RWD vehicles they have, just as Stellantis is about to kill off the most appropriate vehicles for that much horsepower. Somehow, I get the impression the OTHER Carlos, Tavares, not Ghosn, doesn't have a firm grasp of the American market.