Waco’s 10th Court of Appeals sided with two motorists whose vehicles were towed outside a prominent College Station watering hole despite paying to park, ruling that the towing company was wrong to haul the cars away.
In separate opinions issued this week, the intermediate appellate court ruled in both cases that Brazos Valley Roadrunners did not have probable cause to tow the vehicles of Nari Lee and Ian Cichy from the Dixie Chicken parking lot.
The Dixie Chicken is the oldest and one of the most popular bars in the Northgate District. It is across from the Texas A&M University campus and is steeped in Aggie tradition, laying claim as the birthplace to the Aggie ring dunk in which students drop their class rings in beer pitchers and chug it down.
The opinions, written by 10th Court of Appeals Justice Matt Johnson and signed off on by Chief Justice Tom Gray and retired Senior Chief Justice Jim R. Wright of the 11th Court of Appeals, upholds rulings from a Brazos County Court-at-Law, which also ruled in favor of Lee and Cichy.
After the vehicles were towed, both Lee and Cichy sued Roadrunners in a Brazos County justice court, which also sided with the motorists. Brazos Valley Roadrunners appealed to the county court-at-law. Losing there, it subsequently appealed to the Waco appellate court.
In Lee’s case, she parked at the Dixie Chicken parking lot and said she walked across the street without paying to get help to better understand the parking procedure, according to the opinion. She said she returned within a minute of crossing the street and paid the $5 fee before Roadrunner towed her vehicle.
When she returned to the lot after an event, Roadrunners had towed her car. She paid $297.70 to retrieve it from the Roadrunners storage lot.
After losing in JP court and county court, Roadrunners was granted a retrial in county court-at-law. On retrial, Lee testified that after she left the lot to seek help, a student walked to the payment box with her and put $5 in the slot. Lee said her car was still in the lot after she paid.
Lee’s friend, Suil Kang, testified she was with Lee after the event when she discovered her car was gone. Kang said she saw Lee arguing with the parking lot attendant, who showed them security footage on an iPad. Kang saw the footage of Lee paying to park, but said the attendant told them the only thing that mattered was that she left the lot without paying.
“The portion of the parking lot video showing Lee walking away was admitted into evidence, but, according to Roadrunners, the portion of the video showing that she paid was no longer available,” the opinion states.
The opinion in both cases cites an opinion by the Texarkana appeals court that ruled the same way in a case with almost identical circumstances.
Bryan attorney Clint Sare, who represents the tow truck company, said Friday he likely will ask the 10th Court to reconsider its ruling.
“They followed an opinion from Texarkana and did not acknowledge that case is pending before the Texas Supreme Court. So that appeal has not been completed,” Sare said. “The case that the Waco court relied on is not final.”
In siding with Lee, the 10th Court concluded that, “based on the evidence in this case, we conclude that the trial court’s finding that Roadrunners lacked probable cause to tow Lee’s vehicle was not so against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence as to be clearly wrong and unjust.”
In Cichy’s case, he parked his Toyota FJ Cruiser in the lot in May 2019 and intended to pay for parking with a credit card. After realizing the lot only accepted cash, he ran inside Shiner, where he works and which he said was about 10 feet away from the lot, and asked a co-worker for $5.
“After receiving $5 in cash from the co-worker, Cichy ‘ran directly back out,’ waved the $5 cash around in view of Roadrunner’s surveillance cameras, and ‘turned the car alarm on so that any potential spotters would have seen (his) car and that (he) was paying,’” according to the opinion.
Cichy testified he spoke to the parking lot spotter, who assured him that he saw him pay and that he would not be towed. However, when he came out two hours later, his vehicle was gone, Cichy testified.
He paid Roadrunners $319.05 to get his vehicle back.
The JP court ruled in Cichy’s favor, and after Roadrunner appealed, the county court entered a judgment in favor or Cichy for $360 plus post-judgment interest at 5%. The court entered a take-nothing judgment against Dixie Chicken.