Chalking tires given the boot by federal court

prev
next

By Marie E. Matyjaszek

What does 15 parking tickets in three years add up to? A winning lawsuit. 

Michigan resident Alison Taylor loved to park in the city of Saginaw almost as much as parking enforcement officer Tabitha Hoskins enjoyed issuing her tickets.

Employing a frequently used method to determine how long a car has been in the same parking space, Hoskins marked car tires with chalk, noting the time when circling back through her rounds. If the same car had stayed beyond the legally allowed limit, Hoskins issued a citation.

Three years of parking tickets was apparently the limit for Ms. Taylor. In 2017, she sued the City of Saginaw and Hoskins, claiming the tire chalking was a violation of her Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. The lower court sided with the defendant and dismissed the lawsuit. Taylor appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. The Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the district court’s dismissal in April 2019, agreeing with Taylor that her Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.

The court set forth the two questions it had to examine – if the chalking was a search under the Fourth Amendment, and if it was, was that search reasonable? Noting that a search did not have to include a “physical intrusion,” the court stated that a common-law trespass was “an act which brings about intended physical contact with a chattel in the possession of another.”

By chalking the tires of Taylor’s car, Hoskins intentionally made physical contact with the vehicle. The purpose of chalking was to gather information (how long the car was parked in the same spot) and to issue citations based on this information. The court deemed chalking to be a Fourth Amendment search, and the City of Saginaw had the burden of proving an exception to the warrant requirement.

The Court of Appeals ruled that while cars have a lesser expectation of privacy, a warrantless search of a vehicle is permissible if the officer has “probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime.” While Taylor racked up parking tickets, there was no probable cause to use the automobile warrant exception. In fact, the search began when the car was legally parked, prior to any possible violation of the law, the Court of Appeals determined.

The court also disagreed with the city’s attempt to justify the search under the community caregiver exception. Chalking does not promote public safety, and is used primarily for the purpose of generating revenue through the collection of ticket fees, the Court of Appeals noted.

In the wake of the ruling, expect more parking meters to invariably pop up across cities throughout Michigan, effectively putting an end to further “chalk talk.”

The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own. She can be reached at matyjasz@hotmail.com. 

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »