Federal judge says Philadelphia's retention of car-charging stations may be unjust

By Kasey Schefflin-Emrich | Dec 4, 2018

PHILADELPHIA - The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that the City of Philadelphia may have been unjustly enriched by residents' installation of curbside electric vehicle chargers. 

Judge Michael Baylson ruled Nov. 21 to allow unjust enrichment claims against the City to proceed while dismissing due process and equal protection claims.

Three residents filed a complaint against the city after it amended a statute to change the hours electrical vehicles could be parked in reserved parking spaces. The statute makes the EV parking spaces only reserved for electrical vehicles from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. with the remaining time available to non-electrical vehicles. 

The plaintiffs allege the city violated its rights to substantive due process by interfering with their property interest in the spaces and access to charging stations; violated their rights to equal protection by failing to restrict parking in EV reserved spaces to only electrical vehicles; and unjust enrichment since the city benefited by allowing public use of private charging infrastructure and using the EV program as a way to promote itself as progressive and environmentally friendly. 

The city moved to dismiss all parts of the complaint. 

The city argued limiting the hours EVs can in designated spaces is part of its legitimate interest in providing more parking on city streets. The court granted the city’s motion to dismiss the claim.

“The fact that plaintiffs point out several other actions that the city could have taken to achieve its legitimate objectives ‘in no way undermines the rationality of the city’s choice to pursue its aim in the particular way it did, by amending Section 12-1131,’” the court stated. “The court concludes that plaintiffs have failed to state a plausible substantive due process claim.”

The court stated that the plaintiffs failed to come forth with an equal protection claim and thus the court granted the city’s motion to dismiss the alleged equal protection violation.  

“The relevant ‘similarly situated’ group is all vehicle owners in Philadelphia who seek to take advantage of the parking spaces reserved for EVs under Section 12-1131,” the court states. “Section 12-1131 never created a private right for Plaintiffs to alone enjoy the use of these parking spaces. Instead, as the EV Parking Space Application stated, ‘An [EV Parking Spot] should not be treated as a personal parking spot. Anyone with an electric vehicle is allowed to park in the EVPS.'”

With regards to the unjust enrichment claim, the city said the charging stations are primarily for personal use by the EV permit holder and that Philadelphia falls behind other major cities in EV readiness. However, the court denied the city’s motion to dismiss the claim.

“[Plaintiffs] did not install chargers until after their applications for designated parking spaces were approved, supporting the plausible inference that the city’s retention of the charging stations may be unjust,” the court states. “This court previously concluded that the city was ‘clearly on notice’ that plaintiffs paid to install EV chargers because installation was a prerequisite to applying for designated reserved parking spaces.”

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