It was determined Monday by a federal appeals court panel that ‘chalking,’ a low-tech practice used to mark cars to judge the amount of time they have been parked, is now a violation of the Constitution.
A complaint was filed after Alison Taylor, a resident of Saginaw, Michigan, received 15 citations over the course of three years by the same officer, Tabitha Hoskins. Taylor took the city to court stating that marking cars in this manner is a violation of the Fourth Amendment relating to unreasonable search and seizure.
At first, the city won after the district court dismissed the case in 2017, until the Sixth District Court of Appeals reversed that decision saying that chalking would require a warrant, as it was a form of trespassing and was considered the same as attaching a tracker to monitor a car’s location.
The court ruled that Hoskins trespassed onto Taylor’s vehicle because the city made, “intentional physical contact” with it and found that the chalking was an attempt to obtain information or find something.
U.S. Circuit Judge Bernice Bouie Donald wrote that when drivers pull into parking spaces, "the city commences its search on vehicles that are parked legally, without probable cause or even so much as 'individualized suspicion of wrongdoing' — the touchstone of the reasonableness standard."
She went on to say that staying longer than designated doesn't cause "injury or ongoing harm to the community," she wrote, meaning the city is wrong to argue that parking enforcement is part of its "community caretaking" responsibility, justifying a warrantless search.
She finished writing, "there has been a trespass in this case because the City made intentional physical contact with Taylor's vehicle."
Donald stated that while the city has a right to monitor parking, the way they choose to monitor said parking isn’t without limitation.
Just like Saginaw, Michigan, many cities that use the chalking method to enforce parking are often those that don’t have access to meters, like the city of Richmond.
City Manager Rob Minerich said he heard of the appeals court ruling Monday night on the ten o’clock news and spoke with Garrett Fowels, the city’s attorney on Tuesday to look it over.
Upon talking with the attorney, Minerich informed the city’s parking enforcement officer to no longer mark cars this way.
“In the meantime, we are going to look at other solutions for parking enforcement,” Minerich said. “We will probably look toward parking meters.”
He said that he liked the idea of parking meters as they would make parking more efficient by moving cars out of the lots, and would generate more money, potentially allowing a percent of the revenue to be put back towards downtown funds.
Minerich said that the city had entertained the idea of parking meters last fall and received some quotes but held off.
“Now, we will begin looking at what we want in terms for the city of Richmond,” he said. There are still coin operated machines, but there are also updated technologies with debit card and credit card payment methods. There is actually even an app you can just add money to your meter.”
While many may be anxious to upgrade to meters, after the appeals’ decision, a lot of people are concerned that this precedent will make way for more invasive technologies.
Monday's ruling sends the lawsuit back to U.S. District Court in Bay City, Michigan.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.