Fourth Amendment

Federal Court: Chalking Tires Is Trespassing, Not Police Work

And it's a violation of the Fourth Amendment.


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.

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  1. Saginaw can talk the talk, but they can’t chalk the chalk.

    1. Of all the violations of the Constitution running around, I think this is the one I cared about the least.

  2. This sounds like an Onion article. Putting some chalk on the tread of your tire constitutes a search? Really?

    There’s thin, then there’s Wickard and Raich…. then there’s this. Wow, is that some tenuous legal reasoning. At least the trespass angle has them touching something… although I doubt most people count physical contact with the bottom of a car tire as a trespass. That sounds like a pretty crappy precedent. (That guy I ran over was trespassing on the grill of my car…)

    I mean, if you really want to run with that, putting a ticket on your windshield is far more of a trespass.

    And realistically all this does is drive more communities to upgrade to technology-driven parking timers… run by plate scanners. So congratulations, you kicked us out of the 19th century and into 1984.

    1. So congratulations, you kicked us out of the 19th century and into 1984.

      *rubs hands together villainously*

      1. In the ‘1984’ arena – we have parking enforcement based on machine imaging technology here in the Ft. Lauderdale area. They have kiosk meters and pay-by phone apps, which are really handy.

        But how does it work? Well, a car with camera systems on it drives around the area imaging the cars. So there is a law that says you cannot back in to a space. Notice is provided by a small disclaimer at the bottom of the parking sign that tells you where to pay.

        So what happened? Well, I had a really tight spot, and the minivan has a nice backup camera, so it was a lot easier and safer to get in and out of the spot using the backup camera and driving out… so I backed in to this spot between two great big Yukon sized SUV’s. $48 for illegal parking. Oh, on top of the $12 I paid to park there. Nice.

        So you lean that lesson. But still, every car that is in the area is cataloged, by location and time. All day every day.

        Oh, and when there is a human, you get a little leeway. But I pulled in to park in a tourist area in Oakland park and didn’t have the app for that particular area installed. So as I walked away I started downloading the app. I had a couple of problems getting it to load properly, but finally got paid in about 10 minutes. A week or so later, I got a ticket from the enforcement folks. Issued about 2 minutes before I paid for my parking. Nice.

        1. >>>$48 for illegal parking. Oh, on top of the $12 I paid to park there. Nice.

          was the $48 an immediate charge to your card or could you skate on it?

          1. That actually would have been nice.

            No, they give you a little printout ticket.

            So you go “what the heck? I paid for parking” for a while. Then you read all the fine print and figure it out and get mad. And then you realize that there is no effective way to challenge it, so you stick it up next to the computer so you can pay it and be done with it…And promptly forget about it. It is a pretty small receipt sized printout, so one of the kids knocks it down playing computer games and you really forget all about it.

            Then eventually a notice comes in the mail that you have incurred all manner of penalties and fees… and of course you have no idea what they are talking about. But you do recognize that they’ll suspend your license if you don’t take care of it right away. So you suck it up and send in a check for triple the original amount, which was already triple the actual parking fee.

            And then you put a “Libertarianism Happens” bumper sticker on your car.

            1. that’s terrible. what kind of world is this when parking violations can’t be scofflawed?

    2. Filburn got jobbed.

    3. although I doubt most people count physical contact with the bottom of a car tire as a trespass.

      You would be fine coming out and seeing some rando scribbling on your car?

      1. Nice sleight of hand by leaving out a word from what you are responding to.

        “Some rando” chalking my car TIRE? Don’t care.

        “Some rando” scribbling on my car PAINT? Care a lot.

        1. Some rando messing with my tire? I care a lot.

          1. Writing “CLEAN ME” in the dirt on the rims?

            1. Smile & move on with my day.

  3. >>>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 the ordinance says X hours? “threatened order” seems like high burden of proof

  4. I can see that Reason’s progressive bent is starting to successfully attract the pro-government types to these comment sections. Good on you, Reason, living your truth.

    1. Not about pro government. About seemingly illogical reasoning.

      Or maybe I’m missing something. I’m just having a hard time seeing marking how long you’ve been in a parking spot as a search.

      It would be nice if the courts were as protective of privacy rights in other areas. Marking a tire is a search and requires a warrant… but rummaging through my pockets is a safety check and is just fine and dandy…. Whut?

      1. I get what you’re saying, but the way I see it – the government comes up with all sorts of asinine excuses to violate the 4th amendment rights of American citizens. Why would I complain about an asinine excuse to limit government authority?

        Its nice to see one of our government morons make a dumb-ass argument in favor of protecting citizens, for once.

        1. Why would I complain about an asinine excuse to limit government authority?

          Because the ‘tie-their-hands’ approach on really petty shit can backfire in a really nasty way, as Cyto pretty successfully argues.

        2. Usually when someone touches my car unbidden I have desire to rain blows down upon them. This includes some asshole chalking tires.

      2. And I’m gonna posit that the automated system (which is much cheaper in the long run due to decreased labor and increased ticket productiviity) is much worse for liberty than the chalk.

        Because now you’ll have to have the new systems, which means that every municipality in the nation will have a massive database of cars and locations at various times. They are basically tracking you everywhere, all the time, without warrant. And now that huge database is available to be mined. And they can all be consolidated across the nation, so you can be tracked on a national level without much difficulty

        1. “And I’m gonna posit that the automated system…. is much worse for liberty than the chalk.”

          And I’d totally agree with you. That being said, its not like chalk was going to stick around forever. We’re headed to an automated world whether we like it or not. This decision may hasten that “upgrade”, or it may not… either way, I’ll enjoy the little bit of extra freedom I can get while it takes the city 10+ years and a bunch of wasted $$$ to install an automated parking tax-generation system.

          1. Yeah, I doubt you’ll get that 10 years. They just outsource this stuff. So it’s actually just a phone call. Well, not a phone call but they put out an RFP and get some bids and then a couple of months later the new parking signs go up.

            Which is a bonus, because now you have big companies who are making a lot of money off of squeezing the citizenry. That way they have extra money to lobby (bribe) for more parking fees and other ways of collecting money using their automated systems. Win-win-win!

      3. Its not about ‘marking how long you’ve been there’ – its about marking *your property*.

        The dude could have just written down the license plate number and time. He could have put a rock near the tire. He could have done any number of things that don’t involve messing with the car.

        And the law works on slippery slopes. If you can chalk a tire with impunity then maybe you can put a GPS tracker up in there.

        1. >>>maybe you can put a GPS tracker up in there.

          right. Antoine Jones on line 2…

        2. “”its about marking *your property*.””

          If the police dog pees on my tire, does that count as marking my property?

          1. >>>If the police dog pees on my tire

            it’s his. asset forfeiture.

  5. Cop 1: I shot an unarmed guy in the back. Thank goodness for qualified immunity.

    Cop 2: That’s nothing. I tazed an 8-year old just to see what would happen. Thank goodness for qualified immunity.

    Cop 3: Oh, yeah? Well I put chalk on some chick’s tires….

    1. More sad than funny, and it’s pretty funny.

  6. Just ban parking enforcement entirely. If someone is actually causing a problem, tow them. Anything else is just local fundraising.

    1. Easiest solution is for govt to stop enforcing property rights. Empty parked cars on public land are abandoned property. The private sector can easily deal with the issue of parking. Stop looking to govt to subsidize parking.

  7. I reckon a few of those judges have been chalking up some parking fines themselves..

  8. The chalk-abuser needs to be stripped of her “qualified immunity” and punished. I can suggest a fitting punishment: she has to stay after class, write “I will not trespass” on the board 50 times in cursive, and then clap out all the erasers until there’s no more chalk dust coming from them.

  9. At least when parking your car, you can chose to park and pay or not. Not so with speed cameras and red light cameras. They send you a letter advising that you’ve been accused, tried and found guilty by a machine. Pay up or we’ll come get you.

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