The Volokh Conspiracy

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Chalking Tires Is Not a Permissible "Administrative Search"

An interesting Sixth Circuit opinion on parking enforcement (and qualified immunity).


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has previously concluded that chalking tires to enforce parking regulations constitutes a "search" under the Fourth Amendment. Today, in Taylor v. City of Saginaw, it further held that tire chalking is not a valid administrative search.

Judge Griffin begins his opinion for the court:

The City of Saginaw routinely chalked car tires to enforce its parking regulations. In our prior opinion, we held that doing so is a search for Fourth Amendment purposes, and that "based on the pleadings stage of this litigation, . . . two exceptions to the warrant requirement—the 'community caretaking' exception, and the motor-vehicle exception—do not apply here." Taylor v. City of Saginaw, 922 F.3d 328, 336 (6th Cir. 2019) (Taylor I). However, we left for another day whether the search could be justified by "some other exception" to the warrant requirement. Id.

We consider one of those other exceptions today—specifically, whether suspicionless tire chalking constitutes a valid administrative search. Because we conclude that it does not, we reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City. But because we conclude that the alleged unconstitutionality of suspicionless tire chalking was not clearly established, the City's parking officer, defendant Tabitha Hoskins, is entitled to qualified immunity. We therefore affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

He writes further:

Generally, when a search is conducted for an administrative purpose and pursuant to a regulatory scheme—such as inspecting a home for compliance with a municipal housing code—the government may justify a warrantless search by showing that it met "reasonable legislative or administrative standards." Camara, 387 U.S. at 538. This is assessed by "balancing the need to search against the invasion which the search entails." Id. at 536–37. But it is not a free-for-all for civil officers; among other requirements, "the subject of the search must be afforded an opportunity to obtain precompliance review before a neutral decisionmaker." Patel, 576 U.S. at 420. This prerequisite removes the City's practice from the usual administrative-search case, see id.; Liberty Coins LLC, 880 F.3d at 281–82, as there is no such opportunity (which the City does not contest).