A judge has dismissed a consumer-protection lawsuit filed by Atty. Gen. Phill Kline against a Lawrence-based towing company.
In a ruling released this morning, District Court Judge Paula Martin found Kline's claims against TransMasters towing were pre-empted by a federal law that states that a state can't control towing prices.
Kline had filed suit in November against TransMasters and owner Kevin Raasch, alleging the company charged "grossly excessive fees" and committed 14 violations of the Kansas Consumer-Protection Act dating back to 1999.
In one instance, Kline alleged a woman was told she'd have to pay $1,500 to get her car back because of incremental storage fees.
Kline claimed the fees amounted to "unconscionable acts" and deceptive business practices, in violation of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act.
But Raasch's attorney, David Hauber argued successfully that the suit amounted to de facto price regulation barred by the 1995 Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act. The law states that a state may not enact a law "related to a price, route or service of any motor carrier... with respect to the transportation of property."
One exception is that the state may set a maximum price for "non-consensual" tows - those performed without the prior consent or authorization of the owner or operator of the vehicle, such as those ordered by police. But Martin found the issue was moot because the Kansas Consumer-Protection Act doesn't set any maximum price for non-consensual tows.
Hauber said consumer savvy, not a consumer-protection lawsuit, was the answer to people's concerns about towing prices.
"It's just like anything else: before you incur a bill, you should question the people about what their charges are going to be," he said.
Hauber said that since the lawsuit was filed, Raasch has been barred from doing tows on the Kansas Turnpike.
"They've drastically impacted his business, and they've done it because of pricing," he said.