September 28, 2020

Volume X, Number 272

September 28, 2020

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Sixth Circuit Erases Chalking of Parked Cars

It’s not often that a dispute over parking tickets ends up in federal court. But that’s exactly what happened this week in Taylor v. City of Saginaw – a case that has already drawn the attention of the national media.

Taylor involved a challenge to “a common parking enforcement practice known as ‘chalking,’ whereby City parking enforcement officers use chalk to mark the tires of parked vehicles to track how long they have been parked.” This practice can be surprisingly effective (as certain blog authors unfortunately can attest). But it is apparently very effective in Saginaw – according to Judge Donald’s decision, one particular parking enforcement officer managed to chalk (and then ticket) Ms. Taylor fifteen separate times between 2014 and 2017.

Armed with a slew of parking tickets, Ms. Taylor filed suit in federal court, alleging that the City violated the Fourth Amendment by chalking her tires without her consent or a valid warrant. The Sixth Circuit agreed, relying upon the Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012), to hold that chalking constitutes an unreasonable trespass upon a constitutionally-protected area (your car).

At first blush, chalking a car’s tires may not seem like the type of “search” typically raising Fourth Amendment concerns. But as Judge Donald explained, Jones signaled a rebirth of “the seldom used ‘property-based’ approach to the Fourth Amendment search inquiry,” which focuses on physical intrusion to one’s property:

Under Jones, when governmental intrusions are accompanied by physical intrusions, a search occurs when the government: (1) trespasses upon a constitutionally protected area, (2) to obtain information.

In the Court’s view, chalking satisfied both of these requirements: the officer came into contact with Ms. Taylor’s car, in an attempt to obtain information about her (whether she remained in her parking spot too long).

The Court proceeded to hold that the search was unreasonable because the car was parked legally when chalked, and the officer lacked any reasonable suspicion (let alone probable cause) that a crime had been committed. The Court also specifically rejected the City’s assertion of the “community caretaker” exception, explaining that “the purpose of chalking is to raise revenue, and not to mitigate [a] public hazard.”

Taylor is the latest in a series of interesting Fourth Amendment cases playing out on our public roadways. The Sixth Circuit’s decision relied heavily on the Supreme Court’s decision in Jones, which addressed the constitutionality of electronically monitoring an individual’s location by affixing a GPS device to his car.

And the Supreme Court heard argument yesterday in Mitchell v. Wisconsin, which asks whether a statute authorizing a blood draw from an unconscious motorist suspected of driving under the influence provides an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. 

© Copyright 2020 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLPNational Law Review, Volume IX, Number 114


About this Author

Scott Coyle Government Investigations Litigation Attorney Squire Patton Boggs Cincinnati, OH
Senior Attorney

Scott Coyle’s practice focuses on government investigations, white collar criminal defense and appellate litigation. He has successfully represented clients in high-profile criminal investigations and administrative proceedings and has extensive experience drafting briefs in state and federal appellate courts. He also advises clients on compliance with US trade sanctions programs and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Prior to joining us, Scott was a litigation associate with full-service law firms in Washington DC and San Francisco. He represented elected officials and...

Lauren S. Kuley Appellate & Supreme Court Attorney Squire Patton Boggs Cincinnati, OH

Lauren Kuley is co-chair of the Appellate & Supreme Court Practice. She leads complex appeals and critical motions practice in courts nationwide. She simplifies complex issues and develops creative arguments to curtail legal disputes and overturn bad outcomes. Deploying this strategy, Lauren has argued and won reversals of significant verdicts on appeal and obtained dismissal of high-stakes claims at the pleading stage in federal courts. In the US Supreme Court, Lauren authored the briefs leading to a unanimous reversal for a Fortune 500 company. Lauren previously served in the Ohio Solicitor General’s office and as a law clerk for Judge Karen Nelson Moore of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and Harvard College.

Lauren is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, where she teaches the Sixth Circuit Appellate Clinic and represents indigent individuals. She also is a contributor to the firm’s appellate group’s Sixth Circuit Appellate Blog. In addition, Lauren serves on the Executive Board for the Federal Bar Association of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, which supports relationships between the federal judiciary and the federal bar, and is president of the Harvard Law School Alumni Association of Cincinnati.