When an overzealous parking enforcer chalks the tires of a car, a federal court ruled this week, that action counts as trespassing, not as law enforcement.
The ruling came in the case of Taylor v. Saginaw. In 2017, Alison Patricia Taylor sued the city of Saginaw, Michigan, and a parking enforcer named Tabitha Hoskins. Hoskins chalked the tires of Taylor's car 15 times between 2014 and 2017. This was done to determine if Taylor had driven her vehicle away from the parking spot and later returned to it, or stayed parked for longer than the permitted time. The multiple markings resulted in numerous citations. Taylor's suit argued that the chalking of her tires was an unreasonable search that violated the Fourth Amendment. Hoskins maintained that she had qualified immunity.
On Monday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of Taylor. According to the court's decision, the city failed to prove how Taylor's car being parked in a certain spot for a certain amount of time threatened an orderly parking system. Because of this, the chalking of Taylor's car did not qualify for an exemption from the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement.
As for the trespassing aspect, the court maintained that the act of chalking the car fit the definition of "common-law trespass upon a constitutionally protected area." A common-law trespass is defined here as physical contact with property that belongs to someone else.
As The Volokh Conspiracy's Orin Kerr has observed, the allegations in this case are pretty uncommon. But it's likely that the court's decision here applies broadly to all car owners, not just Taylor.
Could this ruling set a new legal precedent for otherwise run-of-the-mill city operations? Only time, and more lawsuits, will tell.