A Little Rock attorney who filed a $3 million class action lawsuit against the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees said he plans to amicably drop the suit, after administrators made what he sees as satisfactory changes to UA parking citation appeals policies.
Chris Corbitt, of Corbitt Law Firm, filed the suit Sep. 4 after his daughter Elizabeth Corbitt, a sophomore, was issued a $100 dollar citation and had her car towed from Lot 29E in August 2019. The suit, which specifically names the members of the board who are lawyers themselves, alleges that UA Transit and Parking’s appeals policies at the time of Corbitt’s citation violated the constitutional right to due process.
UA administrators are confident that the university’s parking policies are fair and lawful, Manager of University Communications John Thomas said in an email.
“The policies are intended to ensure that the University can provide quality parking facilities that meet the needs of the campus community and visitors,” Thomas said.
The primary issues Corbitt raised in the lawsuit were the $10 fee for written citation appeals – refundable if a ticket is overturned – and what he saw as a difficult and non-guaranteed process for obtaining an in-person committee appeal.
“It’s all about the due process,” Corbitt said. “And everybody in this day and age forgets about due process. When the government takes something from you, or the government tries to fine you, then you get to have two things: adequate notice and a hearing.”
Corbitt said university officials informed him after he filed the lawsuit that the appeals policies had been updated in January. The new policy language, available on Transit and Parking’s website, is more expansive and descriptive than that which existed when Emily Corbitt tried to appeal her citation last year.
The policy on receiving in-person committee appeals also changed in January. The original language stated that initial written appeals would be reviewed to determine if they met “administrative guidelines,” and rejected if they didn’t. Then, following the denial, the appellant could make their case in front of the Traffic Appeals Committee, “provided the administrative guidelines have been met.” The January update removed the “administrative guidelines” language.
Corbitt said that although he would prefer that the $10 appeals fee was abolished, he finds the new policy, which is also included on a revised, detailed version of the citation appeal form, to be a good compromise. He thinks the previous due process issues were solved by the clearer, less ambiguous instructions for the appeals process provided on the new form.
Anthony Kammerer, director of Transit and Parking for the Associated Student Government, said he would love to see more students with what he sees as valid reasons for appeals receive in-person hearings. However, he thinks the current policies are fair to both students and Transit and Parking, and allow those issued citations an adequate opportunity to plead their cases.
“I would say that it’s an expensive process for Parking and Transit to hold these appeals and do things like this,” Kammerer said. “There’s a lot more money that’s spent on Parking and Transit, I would say, than students realize, and there’s a reason that that $10 fee is in place.”
Kammerer said he wants students to remember that they can avoid paying one $50 or less citation each academic year by performing two community service hours with ASG’s Work It Off Program.
In the 2019 fiscal year, Transit and Parking issued 43,891 total citations, up more than 2,600 from the year before, according to the department’s annual report. In the fiscal year, 357 people submitted written appeals, and 27 were granted in-person hearings. Eight written appeals and three oral appeals were upheld, while a total of 110 appeals resulted in reduced fine amounts or warnings. The rest were denied.
Transit and Parking produced $228,995 in revenue for the UofA in the 2019 fiscal year. Over $1 million of income from traffic fines is included in the department’s operating budget each year.
Corbitt said he thinks UA officials changed the policies in response to the Freedom of Information Act request he filed in January to obtain university documents for his case. He said that he loves the UofA, his alma mater, and never wanted or intended to actually take the board members to court. His objective, which he thinks he has achieved, was to “turn their heads” and spur them to institute clearer and fairer policies.
“It could have been solved with a conversation,” Corbitt said, “but that’s not how things work unfortunately.”