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Tony's Towing, Inc. v. State, Louisiana State Police

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 16, 2015

TONY'S TOWING, INC
v.
STATE OF LOUISIANA, LOUISIANA STATE POLICE

RULING AND ORDER

BRIAN A. JACKSON, Chief District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant's MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 16) filed by the State of Louisiana, Office of State Police, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, seeking dismissal of all of Plaintiff Tony Towing, Inc.'s claims against it. No opposition was filed. Oral argument is not necessary. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

I. Background[1]

Tony's Towing, Inc. ("Tony's Towing") is a towing company whose primary offices are located on the Eastbank of St. Charles Parish in St. Rose, Louisiana. (Doc. 16-3 at ¶ 1). Tony's Towing alleges that it received a license to receive towing calls from the State of Louisiana, Office of State Police ("State Police"). (Id. at ¶ 2). State Police Troops maintain tow rotation lists of approved companies for their respective areas of responsibility. (Id. at ¶ 3). State Police Troop B ("Troop B") maintains the tow rotation list for St. Charles Parish, the area that is the subject of the instant lawsuit. (Id. ).

Any company in Troop B's area of responsibility that passes a background check and withstands a one-year probationary period is eligible to be placed on a tow rotation list. (Id. at ¶ 4). The tow zone for Troop B is subdivided into smaller zones within its area of responsibility, generally organized by parish. (Id. at ¶ 5). Approved tow companies are placed on the tow rotation list for the parish in which they are located. (Id. ). This allows the towing company to respond to the State Police's tow request within forty-five minutes as required by State Police guidelines. (Id. ). For organizational purposes related to the State Police computer system, the tow rotation lists for St. Charles and Jefferson Parishes are further subdivided between the Eastbank and Westbank of each parish. (Id. at ¶ 6). Towing companies in St. Charles Parish are able to respond to tow requests for both the Eastbank and the Westbank within the forty-five minute period prescribed. (Id. at ¶ 7). As such, approved tow companies may participate on both the Eastbank and Westbank tow rotation lists. (Id. ).

The State Police also maintains separate lists based upon a company's towing capacity. (Id. at ¶ 8). Capacity is broken down by "heavy duty, " "medium duty, " and "regular" classifications. (Id. ). Tony's Towing, Jake's Towing and Recovery ("Jake's), and Louie's Wrecker Service, Inc. ("Louie's) are all licensed and approved for tows on the State Police's rotation list for the Eastbank of St. Charles Parish. (Id. at ¶ 9). Tony's Towing is approved for only the regular tow rotation list because it does not have the capacity to perform heavy duty and/or medium tows.[2] (Id. at ¶ 10). Tony's Towing was also approved to be on the rotation list for the Westbank of St. Charles Parish, but declined the opportunity.[3] (Id. at ¶ 11).

If and when the State Police determines that a vehicle must be towed on the Eastbank of St. Charles Parish, it asks the owner of the vehicle if he or she has a preferred towing company. (Id. at ¶ 12). If the owner of the vehicle requests a specific towing company, such as Tony's Towing, that company is called. (Id. at ¶ 13). If the owner of the vehicle has no preference, the State Police consults its computer system to identify an approved towing company from the appropriate tow rotation list. (Id. at ¶ 14).

Prior to December 3, 2014, the automated computer system rotated between only two companies - Tony's Towing and Jake's - each time the computer was consulted for regular tows. (Id. at ¶ 15). As of December 3, 2014, a third towing company, Louie's, was added as an approved towing company for the Eastbank tow rotation list. (Id. at ¶ 16). Accordingly, the computer system now rotates between three companies - Tony's Towing, Jake's, and Louie's - each time it is consulted for regular tows. (Id. ).

If the towing company identified by the computer system is unable to perform the tow at the requested time, the next tow company on the list is contacted. (Id. at ¶ 17). After a towing company is identified and contacted, it moves to the end of the list, regardless of whether it accepted or declined the tow request. (Doc. 16-4 at ¶ 16). Neither the State Police nor its computer system considers race and/or national origin in selecting the tow company to be contacted. (Doc. 16-3 at ¶ 18). At the time Tony's Towing filed its Petition, and as a result of the State Police's towing procedures, Tony's Towing received a majority of the tows requested for the Eastbank of St. Charles Parish. (Id. at ¶ 19). For example, from August 10, 2013, to February 4, 2014, Tony's Towing received approximately 55% of all tows requested for the Eastbank of St. Charles Parish. (Id. at ¶ 20). By contrast, Jake's received only 37% of available tows during the same period.[4] (Id. ).

Nevertheless, Tony's Towing commenced the instant action in the Nineteenth Judicial District for the Parish of East Baton Rouge on February 11, 2014, against the State Police alleging that the State Police refused to send tow calls to Tony's Towing because its owner is a non-Caucasian person who was born in the Dominican Republic. (Doc. 1-4 at ¶¶ 7-9). More specifically, Tony's Towing alleges that the State Police sent tow calls to a Caucasian-owned company that is not licensed to provide tows in the designated zone, in violation of the Louisiana Towing and Storage Act and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1988. (Id. at ¶ 7, 10). On March 26, 2014, following service of the petition, the State Police timely removed the action to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. (Doc. 1). Tony's Towing seeks damages, attorney's fees, and a declaratory judgment mandating that the State Police provide all tows in Zone C[5] to Tony's Towing, as it is allegedly the only licensed tow operator in said zone. (Doc. 1-4 at p. 5).

II. Standard of Review

Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether the movant is entitled to summary judgment, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draws all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Coleman v. Houston Independent School District, 113 F.3d 528, 533 (5th Cir. 1997).

After a proper motion for summary judgment is made, the non-movant must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). At this stage, the court does not evaluate the credibility of witnesses, weigh the evidence, or resolve factual disputes. Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1059 (1992). However, if the evidence in the record is such that a reasonable jury, drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, could arrive at a verdict in that party's favor, the motion for summary judgment must be denied. Int'l Shortstop, Inc., 939 F.2d at 1263.

On the other hand, the non-movant's burden is not satisfied by some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, or by conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or a mere scintilla of evidence. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). Summary judgment is appropriate if the non-movant "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). In other words, summary judgment will lie only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits if any, show that there is no ...


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