Predatory, illegal and exploited: why booting may have been illegal all along

Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

Booting in Atlanta might have been illegal all along if local law firms can prove unlawful behavior from companies. The Kevin Patrick Law Firm and the Werner Law Firm filed against Atlanta booting companies for alleged illegal activity.

According to the Werner Law Firm’s lead counsel Matt Wetherington, the only way booting can be legal within a city is if the local government passes an ordinance.

“Look at any sign in the city of Atlanta and compare it to the statute. Note that it doesn’t comply with the city of Atlanta ordinance. Both law firms leading the suit, filed against unnamed booting companies in Atlanta, are limited to the information they can give due to privacy and legality,” he said.

The signs are stating who the contractors are but not who owns the parking lot. However, the booting companies are still booting even though the sign doesn’t state what the law says it’s supposed to state.

“The goal,” Wetherington said, “is to get everyone who’s been booted their money back.”

This suit, if won, will bring about new restrictions and guidelines for booting companies. The awareness of fake booting companies will increase and hopefully they can begin to be apprehended.

The firms involved have stated that their clients have felt like it was predatory, illegal and an exploited practice. Wetherington said, “What they are doing is illegal. It’s false imprisonment. Booting is a form of false imprisonment and once that person has been falsely imprisoned and are forced to pay a fee, then that is extortion.”

Wetherington said most, if not all, booting companies in Georgia don’t comply with the law. The lack of action in dealing with fixing the signs in the unauthorized areas will help the plaintiff’s argument. This accusation insinuates that illegal activity has been happening in Atlanta for years without any action. The law firms involved stated that the suit is against a number of companies in Atlanta and the surrounding areas, however, the names of the involved companies cannot be disclosed.

Willy Ellis, the booting companies’ lead counsel, declined to comment to The Signal.

Booting in the City

Kevin Patrick Law Firm’s owner, Kevin Patrick, said he’s “concerned with booting tactics becoming predatory.“

“People have expressed concern about patronizing businesses and restaurants in Atlanta because of the fear of a booted vehicle,” he said.

Both firms express their concern with the negative impact booting has caused and will continue to cause on the city’s growth and development.

The city, which creates the ordinance to regulate booting, and the companies are allegedly not complying with the ordinances. However, booting isn’t the only questionable activity brought up by the suit.

“The police aren’t doing a ton of enforcement involving fake companies,” said Patrick.

Companies are required to cap their fees at $75 in the allowed areas. If the areas do not have ordinances, then the legality of booting companies comes into question.

Sgt. John Chafee of Atlanta Police Department (APD) Public Affairs expressed that when officers respond to booting disputes, they check if the booter is in compliance with the guidelines of the law. If they are not in compliance, they could be issued a citation or arrested for violating the city ordinances. In regards to fake companies who boot cars and charge a raised price, citizens can check to ensure the booter is in compliance with the law by asking whether the booter has a permit, ensuring his vehicle is properly marked and checking if the parking lot has the proper signage.

Georgia State Regulations

Chris Connelly, Director of Marketing and Operations, explained that Georgia State owns the parking decks and lots, however, the streets and everything not labeled as Georgia State belongs to the city. Connelly said if a student has received a ticket outside of Georgia State owned parking decks and lots, then the school is not involved. However, when the school does issue a boot in Georgia State parking areas, then Georgia State parking services sends someone to boot the vehicle. The maximum fee the school has allowed for booting on school property is $40.

Georgia State also requires either parking services or Georgia State Police Department to remove the boot from the vehicle.

Georgia State student Maggie Williams said she was booted in Midtown after having dinner at Noodle. She walked off of the parking lot to Sweet Hut and less than five minutes later, found a boot on her car.

“I was so confused,” she said. “I only walked across the street for like five minutes, so they had to have watched me as I left the parking lot.” She explained how there was a sign but it wasn’t clear as to the guidelines of what would happen if she left the premises. She was charged $75.