How a $31.50 parking ticket turned into $70,537 in court costs

Melanie Epp   Aug 15, 2012 148 Comments

In November of 2007, Dr. Anna Marie Arenson, a radiologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, parked her car on Bayview Avenue in Toronto near the hospital where she works. It was cold, and a blizzard was in full effect. She popped $3 into the pay-and-display meter, but the machine refused to issue a receipt. She tried another one up the block, but got the same result. Giving up, she decided to go for dinner. When she returned, Dr. Arenson found a $31.50 parking ticket stuck to her windshield.

Certain that it had something to do with inclement weather and condensation – otherwise why would both machines fail to work at once? – she decided to fight the ticket. Convinced that she was not alone and that there could be tens of thousands of drivers who’d experienced the same situation, she decided to launch a class-action suit against the city. That was her first mistake. 

According to an article in the National Post, after an Ontario court judge dismissed her plea for a class-action lawsuit, and argument that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, Dr. Arenson has been ordered to pay the city’s legal bills – a sum in the amount of $70,537. 

In his ruling, Justice Paul Perell of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice said, “I do not doubt that Dr. Arenson’s proposed class action interested the public and I appreciate that it attracted some media attention. However, that a case is interesting to the public does not mean that it is public interest litigation.” 

Dr. Arenson, who was defended by her former husband, says she wasn’t in it for the money. “This is about small wrongs multiplied over a great number of people. We still think the city is taking money out of the parkers’ pockets and we want to investigate this in a transparent manner,” says Mr. Arenson. “We are open to making some kind of settlement if it leads to an impartial investigation that is publicly available.” 

What is most worrisome about this case is that it sets the tone for future class action lawsuits of this kind. As Mr. Arenson says, It really “casts into doubt whether the class-action system works in public interest litigation.” The Arensons plan on appealing both the certification dismissal and the cost ruling. 

For now, Judge Purell has made his ruling clear. “That a person brings a proceeding out of a bona fide concern to vindicate his or her concern of the public interest does not necessarily insulate that person from an award of costs.” 

Although Dr. Arenson may have a case, my tendency is to side with the judge. If every time someone wanted to file a class action suit against a city that city were responsible for paying the tab, we’d have a lot of broke cities. On the other hand, it does send a strong message to those who are thinking of utilizing the class-action system, especially for public interest litigation.





While this is a bit of a surprise, there is  a rather sad lesson here.

It is my experience  that one can try to rally people under a common cause, but many simply fall by the wayside and don’t have the jam to continue.

This may set a precedent to scare off similar class action suits .

The lesson here (on these smaller legal issues) is fight your own tickets and limit your exposure.

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