The signs outside The Queen on Market Street in Wilmington clearly state: "No parking--loading zone between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. except Saturday and Sunday."
Dominique Grant, who moved here from South Carolina and lives in downtown Wilmington, parked in front of The Queen, across the street from her apartment, last Saturday night.
She said late that same night she had a conversation with someone from The Queen when she went out to her car to retrieve some water.
"The girl came up to me, and was like 'you need to move your car...this a tow-away zone.' I said actually this is a loading zone, and the signage says this a loading zone from 8 to 6, Monday through Friday, and this was Saturday night...so I was like I'm not moving my car.”
The next day, her car wasn't there.
She contacted Wilmington Police to see whether she had been issued a parking violation, and she learned:
"Wilmington Police Department--they hadn't had it towed, and then I got the information from the police log, which says it was a private tow done at 6:14 p.m. on Sunday [January 19, 2020]," she said. "They didn't give a reason; they just said 'private tow.'"
But the law clearly states only Wilmington Police, using the city's authorized tow company, can tow a vehicle from public property. Neither were involved in the towing of Grant's 2008 Honda Accord.
She also contacted The Queen to inquire whether they towed her car. The woman on the phone said she didn't know, but gave Grant a telephone number, refusing to specify where that number would lead.
The telephone number led her to National Auto Movers, which told her the venue had her vehicle towed initially, then reversed course and said that the towing company's office manager authorized the tow.
"They can't authorize a tow on behalf of a private property owner," she said. "She told me, at that point, I owed $490, and they were assessing a $50 per day charge for storage and that if I didn't get there before 3:30 p.m., then I would have to wait until tomorrow."
Later that same day, Tuesday, she took a Lyft to the towing company on South Market Street to pick up her car. But she was presented with an affidavit she was required to sign in order to obtain her car.
"The affidavit stated that I basically acknowledge that I was illegally towed, and as a courtesy to The Queen, National Auto Movers was releasing my car to me, and that I waive any rights to collect damages as a result of the tow."
She could've walked away with her car right then--with all charges waived--but she didn't. She wants to make sure this doesn't happen again, so she's suing National Auto Movers in the Justice of the Peace Court for $8,000 in punitive, economic, and non-economic damages.
"This is basically to deter other people as well as National Auto Movers from practicing business like this...I've had to take a Lyft every day to work, including riding the bus, so that's about $13 one-way. The bus is $2, if I take two buses, it's $4. I have Rheumatoid arthritis and the nearest bus stop is six blocks to get to where I need to go in degrees that's in the teens, I think that's pretty stressful for me, especially when I'm used to walking maximum two to three blocks if I don't get a good parking spot when I get home. And of course, my car back."
She called the illegal towing of her car an example of "gross neglect" and a clear disregard for her rights.
"At that point, where they presented me the paperwork to get my car out if I waived liability, they knew that they didn't have a right to have my car, and they still never offered it to me--only upon that condition. I shouldn't have to waive my rights to get back what was mine."
She said it's clear the situation wasn't handled properly.
"By the venue not calling the police, they usurped any intervention by the police to get my car back," she said. "The fact that they couldn't even name an individual who authorized [the tow] was a big red flag for me, that they didn't do what they should've done," she said. "For me, it was convenient for me to park there, and I wasn't breaking any laws by doing so. It was convenient for The Queen to just tow my car instead of going...and getting the proper permits to block that parking spot off."
"I think they have more resources than me when it comes to having somebody go up there and get the permits, post the notice within a timely manner so residents and visitors know that this parking space is not available."
She's going to small claims court to get her car back but also in hopes of setting a precedent.
"That if you do this to residents and common people, you don't just get away with fear-mongering and telling them that every single day you have their car it's $50. For most people that would scare them...but for me...I think it's worth it, especially, if I win punitive damages because that will deter them from doing this to other people."
The Queen’s manager didn’t return a request for comment. National Auto Movers refused comment and promptly hung up.