Chalking Tires to Enforce Parking Ruled Unconstitutional

Posted by Elizabeth M. Hutton on April 24th, 2019

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that a parking enforcer who uses chalk to mark your tire to keep track of how long you’ve been parked is unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati, unanimously agreed that this is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects people from “unreasonable search and seizures.”

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Bernice Donald concluded that chalking tires is a kind of trespass, one of which requires a warrant. With this ruling, the Court concluded that marking a car’s tires to gather information is likened to that of police attaching a GPS to a vehicle to track a suspected drug dealer.

This case was brought by Alison Taylor, a Michigan woman whom the court described as a “frequent recipient of parking tickets.” Donald said that the chalking of Taylor’s car was just like the GPS installation, a trespass with the purpose for gathering incriminating information, therefore making it a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Appeals Court overturned an opinion by U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington, who had called the legal theory “unorthodox” and originally dismissed the case in favor of the city of Saginaw, where Taylor resided.

Parking attendants across the country, including those in downtown Johnson City, have been chalking cars for decades in zones without meters to enforce time limits and to issue tickets. It has become a substantial source of revenue for many cities. Taylor’s attorney, Phillip Ellison, declared that the city of Saginaw was acting unconstitutionally, and stated he was grateful that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals took the matter seriously.  The 6th Circuit covers the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

The case will now return to the lower Court, and Ellison wants the Court to certify the lawsuit as a class-action, with refunds for people who were ticketed. He said that the City of Saginaw has been collecting up to $200,000 annually, with parking tickets from tire chalking.


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