Can’t Chalk This: Federal Appeals Court Finds Practice of Chalking Car Tires Unconstitutional

Federal courts are often called upon to rule on hotly-contested, politically controversial cases.  That may delight those on one side of an issue and deeply disappoint those on the other. But unless you enforce parking ordinances, chances are good that if you have any reaction whatsoever to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Taylor v. City of Saginaw, it will be a positive one. Plaintiff Alison Taylor sued Saginaw, Michigan, after city employees marked the tires of her car and thereafter ticketed her no fewer than 15 times in three years.

The Court of Appeals sided with Taylor, analogizing this low-tech practice to a markedly more modern one of law enforcement officers installing a GPS device without a warrant to track the location of a suspect’s vehicle in United States v. Jones. The Court first found that City employees conducted a “search” under the Fourth Amendment, and also rejected the City’s argument that the search was permissible without a warrant because of the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement.

Although we here at Janssen Malloy LLP don’t foresee the next great class action case being one related to a municipality’s practice of marking car tires with chalk, this case is likely to be one of the more universally popular Fourth Amendment decisions.