Chalk it Up to the Constitution


Chalk it Up to the Constitution

There’s a little storm brewing in the Midwest that might affect parking enforcement across the country. 

Chalking tires is on the verge of being declared illegal.

In April 2017, a woman named Alison P. Taylor filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Saginaw, Mich. to dismiss 14 parking tickets she’d been given since 2014. The tickets were given for violations determined through the means of tire chalking. Taylor’s attorney argued that chalking is unconstitutional.

This past April, three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati court ruled that chalking is considered a search of property and is, therefore, a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s clause banning unreasonable searches and seizures. Three days later, the court rearranged a little by ruling that chalking is a search of property, but not necessarily a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Then in June, after a request for review by the city of Saginaw’s attorney, Brett T. Meyer, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati decided not to review the second April 2019 ruling. The circuit includes Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The June decision means the case could go to the United States Supreme Court.

Ms. Taylor’s attorney, Philip L. Ellison, is also considering collecting data and participants for a class action lawsuit. It has been reported that the lawsuit was Ellison’s idea.

Legal jargon makes my had spin, so I hope readers appreciate my summary of these activities and forgive any mistakes. I think I got the gist of it, though.

I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts on this issue and it’s taken awhile for me to formulate an opinion. Overall, it seems like a waste of time and money. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say it is ridiculous.

I think Taylor didn’t appreciate the tickets she earned fair and square, so she wants say they were issued illegally to get out of paying for them. I imagine someone this invested in getting out of parking tickets feels heroic in her efforts to spare others the same pain.

There are finer points to the argument. One is that chalking is not a “reasonable” search because it leads to punitive measures even if the car is parked legally at the time of marking. It seems there was a particularly zealous enforcement officer who fed into the perception that Ms. Taylor was being trespassed upon.

I can see how you could call chalking a “search” of property, but only technically, and just barely. An enforcement officer chalking your tires is not the same as an enforcement officer trying your doors or getting in your car. It seems that, if chalking is a “search,” so is leaving a note on a windshield. 

Then again, I like the idea that my property is my property and no government entity is allowed to interfere with my property without permission or legal authorization. I don’t mind calling my car property and asking that it be afforded the same protections as my home. 

At present, I’m more worried about criminals entering and searching my house without permission. And I’m even more concerned about the amount of my personal information that can be searched and stolen from various online sources – like my doctor’s office, grocery store, bank and health insurance provider.

A little chalk on my tire seems insignificant compared to risk that I take of the search and seizure of my credit card information every time I buy gas. And I know my tires have been chalked – there’s a strip of shopping in my town patrolled this way. It never occurred to me to feel violated by chalk.

Cities have to have a way to enforce parking. Maybe using a camera or keeping track of license plate numbers is a smart solution.  

With my negligible legal abilities, I am wondering if it’s a simple as a notice somewhere visible that informs the user that parking on city property indicates acceptance of the city’s need to enforce parking time limits and its right to use chalk to accomplish that task. 

One of these days we aren’t going to be able to leave the house to buy toilet paper without signing a waiver of some sort, but if people are going to sue over every little thing, paperwork must be filed.

The lawsuit has serious momentum now. And if it reaches the Supreme Court, it could affect municipalities all over the United States. Every city using chalk to keep track of parking use should start brainstorming.

People and their lawyers need to worry about more important things. I will be watching this case play out, hoping it ends on the side of common sense.

Article contributed by:
Melissa Bean Sterzick
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