County can seize drunk driver's Ferrari - N.Y. appeals court

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court in New York on Tuesday overturned a $95,000 jury award to a driver who said Suffolk County should compensate him for seizing and auctioning his Ferrari sports car following his May 2009 drunk driving arrest.

The driver, James Ferrari, said Suffolk County violated his due process rights by impounding his 2003 Ferrari 360 Spider after police caught him driving while intoxicated, and in possession of crack cocaine, at over 100 miles per hour (162 kph) in the village of Bellport, court records show.

Ferrari, who had a prior DWI record, later pleaded guilty, had his license suspended and surrendered title to the car.

But he said it would have been enough for the county to let him post bond rather than seize his car in the first place.

Writing for a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, Circuit Judge Debra Ann Livingston said municipalities can impound vehicles for public safety reasons in appropriate cases.

In a 47-page decision, Livingston said a lower court judge erred in effectively requiring Suffolk County to show that Ferrari might destroy his car if he got it back, and that lesser measures would not protect its financial interests.

She said that once the county demonstrated why it should keep the car, it became Ferrari’s burden to show otherwise.

“We cannot hold, as Ferrari effectively asks us to, that any marginal benefit afforded drivers like him by the added layer of process he seeks is so paramount that the Constitution of the United States requires Suffolk County to adopt a process at retention hearings that could put its residents at risk,” Livingston wrote.

Andrew Campanelli, a lawyer for Ferrari, declined to comment on the ruling, saying he was reviewing the decision. He said there was no relationship between his client’s name and car.

Suffolk County Attorney Dennis Brown said in an interview: “Our initial review certainly leaves us pleased with the result.”

The case is Ferrari v County of Suffolk, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-975.