The United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that chalking tires as a means of parking enforcement is unconstitutional.
As Judge Bernice B. Donald explained in the court’s opinion, parking enforcement officers in some cities use chalk to mark tires of vehicles to track how long they have been parked in the same spot. If they return and find the vehicle has been parked in the same location for too long, they issue a ticket to the owner.
While this is a relatively common occurrence, Alison Taylor sued the city of Saginaw, Michigan and its parking enforcement officer Tabitha Hoskins for violating her Fourth Amendment rights preventing the government from conducting an unreasonable search. The city and Hoskins successfully fought this argument in district court as it determined chalking tires was a search, but it was reasonable because “there is a lesser expectation of privacy in automobiles” and the “search was subject to the community caretaker exception to the warrant requirement.”
Taylor appealed the decision and the case moved up to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals agreed that chalking tires was indeed a search, but it also found the search was unreasonable. As Donald explained, Saginaw failed to demonstrate how chalking tires “bears a relation to public safety.”
Donald went on to say that Saginaw “does not demonstrate, in law or logic, that the need to deter drivers from exceeding the time permitted for parking – before they have even done so – is sufficient to justify a warrantless search under the community caretaker rationale.” As a result, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s order to dismiss the case.
According to the Associated Press, the decision impacts Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. The publication also said Taylor’s lawyer will now attempt to turn her case into a class-action lawsuit in an effort to recover the approximately $200,000 (£154,640 / €178,212) in parking fines that Saginaw has been collecting illegally every year.