Homeless Seattle man who had his truck towed gets case heard by WA Supreme Court

SEATTLE — On Tuesday, the Washington State Supreme Court heard the case of Steven Long, 61, who had his truck towed by the Seattle Police Department in 2016.

Long, who is homeless, was living in his truck in a gravel lot in South Seattle. He was ticketed for parking in the same place for more than 72 hours. His truck was towed a few days later. To get it back, he’d have to pay Lincoln Towing about $550.

This case is based on the Homestead Act, a frontier-era law, that decrees the government can’t force anyone to sell their home to pay their debts.

Long took the city of Seattle to court. His attorneys said the city violated the Homestead Act when they took his truck and charged excessive fines.

While he lost the case in Municipal Court, he won it in King County Superior Court. King County Superior Court ruled that the fines were excessive and by holding a vehicle, used as a home until the owner can pay the impound debts, violates the Homestead Act.

The Court of Appeals upheld the violation of the Homestead Act but didn’t agree the fines were excessive. Both sides petitioned for the State Supreme Court to hear the case.

The Supreme Court’s decision will impact how the city handles homeless individuals living in cars, trucks and recreational vehicles.

During virtual oral arguments today, James Lobsenz — Long’s attorney — told the justices, “Here, the car’s not even on a street. It’s in an unused gravel lot. It isn’t causing any problems.”

“Mr. Long slept on the ground for 21 days because he could not afford to pay more than 500 dollars to get his home out of the impound lot. This court should hold that Mr. Long’s homestead rights were violated,” said Alison Bilow, attorney for Long.

But the attorney for the city of Seattle said the Homestead Act does not apply in this case.

“The payment plan, in this case, was completely unsecured, so the city had no ability to enforce that obligation against Mr. Long’s truck or any other property he might have had,” said Robert Mitchell, counsel for the city of Seattle.

He said the city took on the debt from the tow company, and Long was on a payment plan and, if he didn’t make the payments, no one was coming for his truck.

Long’s attorney said he didn’t move the truck because it was inoperable. He did get it back but still has fines to pay. It was sent to collections, and the amount keeps growing.

Long is still working in construction and is looking for other work. He is still living in a truck — a different truck than the one towed in 2016.

The Supreme Court is expected to take months to issue a decision.