A Rockland Key-based towing company claims the city of Key West illegally booted it from the police rotation call list and wants a judge to order it back on, according to a civil lawsuit filed in state court.
Anchor Towing, at 189 U.S. 1 on Rockland Key, wants a judge to reinstate it in the department's rotation of trucks called when police need a vehicle removed from the road due to a car crash, the arrest of a driver or recovery of a stolen or abandoned vehicle, according to the seven-page lawsuit filed on July 31.
The lawsuit names Key West and City Manager Bob Vitas as defendants.
According to the city of Key West's wrecker ordinance, licensed tow companies that meet the city's criteria can participate in a rotating call list whenever police need a wrecker.
The companies rotate due to fairness, given that such calls are "extremely lucrative to the holders of those licenses," according to the lawsuit.
"The licenses to participate on the rotation call list is the most valuable asset held by many Key West auto wrecker companies."
According to the ordinance, companies are allowed to charge owners $135 a tow for wrecked or abandoned vehicles that weigh less than 5 tons -- most cars, trucks and motorcycles.
That fee goes up to $485 for industrial vehicles weighing up to 26 tons.
"The Police Department made a determination that Anchor was in violation of the ordinance and Anchor received a notice of hearing before the city manager," said City Attorney Shawn Smith.
"They came in, presented their testimony and the city manager made an appropriate determination that Anchor failed to meet the terms of ordinance."
The lawsuit alleges City Manager Bob Vitas yanked Anchor Towing from the tow rotation because the company failed to "provide (inside) storage facilities maintained at the operator's place of business."
Anchor Towing has two business locations -- its office and outside storage area at 189 U.S. 1, and a second location at 161 U.S. 1, about a quarter-mile away, the site of its inside storage facility.
On June 7, Anchor Towing was told the city was holding a non-compliance hearing due to a police complaint that the companies' "inside storage facility is not the same facility where their office/space of business and outside storage are located," according to the lawsuit.
On July 5, Anchor Towing was notified it was being suspended from the rotation call lists based on the differing locations of the office and outside storage area.
The city is playing loose with the legislative intent of the wrecker ordinance, said Anchor Towing attorney Lee Rohe of Summerland Key.
He argues there is no requirement in the city code mandating the inside vehicle storage facility be at the same place as the company's office.
"We think they're going way outside the language of their ordinance," Rohe said.
"I think it would be a due process problem to go from a system of fairness to a system of placing that authority with the city manager."
Such a move eschews the legislative intent of the ordinance, which was really about fairness among competing tow companies, he said.
"If they really want to change the ordinance, they should do it through public readings with comments and so forth," Rohe said.
He notes in the lawsuit that the wrecker ordinance provides no appeal to Vitas' decision, thus the lawsuit.
Chief Circuit Judge David Audlin will preside over the case. No tentative trial date had been scheduled as of Wednesday.