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A Murray towing company recently scored a victory in 3rd District Court when Judge Paul Maughan ruled against three angry vehicle owners who hoped to recoup the cash they unwillingly had to pay to reclaim their cars.

The three plaintiffs sought damages in the amount of $291,000. One of them was Aaron Zundel, a recent law school graduate whose father is Michael Zundel, is a senior partner in the Salt Lake City-based firm Prince, Yeates & Geldzahler.

On a Friday night last March, Aaron Zundel parked his 2003 VW Passat in the lot of the 33rd Street Station strip mall, and he and his father walked across the street to catch a movie at the Century 16 theaters. Although signs warned that the lot was open to "Customer Only Parking," they decided to park anyway.

They returned later to discover that Legacy Towing Inc. had carted off the car to the company's impound lot at 4255 S. 300 West.

"Michael Zundel said he was an attorney and that he 'highly recommended' we bring back the vehicle to the property or release it for free," tow-truck driver Dustin Shurtleff said in court documents about a confrontation that ensued. "He threatened that if we didn't release it or bring it back at no charge, he would sue us."

In her memorandum to the court, Heather Thuet, attorney for Legacy Towing, called the plaintiffs's request for costs and damages in the amount of $291,000 "outlandish," while Jared Parrish — the Prince, Yeates & Geldzahler attorney who represented the plaintiffs — claimed that the towing charges were "unlawful" and reserved the right to pursue a class-action suit "if the circumstances so arise," according to court documents.

The Zundels say they plan to appeal.

The bill that March night came to $279 per plaintiff, payable only in cash, broken down to $145 for the tow, a $30 administrative fee, a $29 fuel surcharge and a $75 after-hours fee to reclaim that night.

Although two plaintiffs did just that, Aaron Zundel waited 13 days to pay his $529 tab — minus the after-hours charge but with $25 tacked on for each day the car stayed in Legacy Towing's impound lot.

"We were mad," Michael Zundel said in a recent interview, about their reasons for letting the car sit, "and didn't want to acquiesce to this extortion."

Although Michael Zundel believes the towing and impound fees were justified, he considered the other charges to be abusive and illegal.

"This is an exploitation of people," Zundel said. "If they would just say, 'Pay the $145,' it would still be lucrative — but also legal."Schafer Magana, president of Legacy Towing, said he and his drivers comply with the law and do everything by the book.

"We do our due diligence — only one sign is required and we [have] five or six stating Customer Parking Only," Magana said.

Since January, Legacy Towing has had an agreement in place with the Draper-based Wadsworth Development group to remove non-customer vehicles from the 33rd Street Station lot that serves a strip mall consisting of six small storefronts.The area gets a lot of traffic during the lunch hour and at night, Magana said, acknowledging that "we could tow all day, but we don't."

At peak times when the

33rd Street Station lot has only a few vacant parking stalls, Magana said his employees watch where people go after parking their cars. If they head to businesses others than those in the strip mall, they stand a good chance of being towed, Magana said.The nearby Red Ginger Bistro posted its own signs, warning of possible tows and telling patrons "No Parking at Stripmall please."

"If [the lot] is all vacant and someone goes to the Red Ginger, we won't tow," Magana said, adding that his employees are also hesitant to haul away cars with booster seats or infant seats inside. "We're trying to make it to where it's good for the businesses — and we're not trying to be too aggressive."

Cash payments are required, Magana said, because people are angry after their vehicles have been towed and often cancel a check or credit card payment after the fact.

The $30 administrative fee covers the towing company's required reporting of each vehicle towed, in case owners report them stolen. The $29 fuel surcharge covers the rising cost of fuel. The $75 after-hours fee ensures that employees get paid for opening the impound lot during off-hours and filling out the required paperwork, Magana said.

Although a 3rd District Court judge sided with Magana earlier this month, citing state statutes and administrative rules that allow such fees, Michael Zundel said that tows that are not police-generated are limited under the law to which fees can be charged."If a policeman is not involved, they may only charge the one flat [towing] fee," he said. "We are planning to appeal."

cmckitrick@sltrib.comTwitter: @catmck