Drop The Chalk!

Drop The Chalk!
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Brad Rapp


As we head into Fall and the weather begins to cool, we have to sometimes take a break from college football and pumpkin spice, and relish in the lighter side of the law. We all see the outlandish cases and court decisions in the headlines, and this one caught my attention as I have been “chalked” several times in my life.

The quick background of the case is that a woman in Saginaw, Michigan was fighting 14 parking tickets, and her attorneys put forth the novel argument that her constitutional rights were being violated by the parking enforcement officer chalking her tires without a search warrant.

You know what “chalking” is. Parking enforcers swiping a piece of chalk across a tire to mark cars they had seen before, especially when there is a time limit for parking but no parking meters. “Chalking tires is very old-fashioned,” said Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The first references I’ve seen to it were in the 1920s.”

However, this was the mode of operation for the City of Saginaw parking enforcers, although they sometimes took notes and there were parking areas with meters and pay machines within the city limits.

The City of Saginaw argued that the use of “tire chalking” furthered its enforcement of its parking ordinances and also claimed that the chalking was a signal to motorists that their vehicle was being watched.


The attorneys for the parking limit violator argued that the Fourth Amendment’s ban against unreasonable searches was triggered when the parking enforcer applied chalk marks and returned sometime later to see if the car was still there.  They claimed that there was no probable cause to justify the “search” because the chalk marks were made on cars that are still legally parked at the time they are marked. The City of Saginaw argued that the interests of enforcement were an exception to the Fourth Amendment and that the City of Saginaw’s interests greatly outweigh the minimal intrusion that a chalk mark creates.

As a refresher from those high school civics classes, the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, ruled in favor of the parking violator concluding that the chalking was a constitutional violation and that municipalities have found ways to enforce parking regulations without implicating the Fourth Amendment and thus, “tire chalking was not necessary to meet the ordinary needs of law enforcement, let alone the extraordinary…”

A glaring Constitutional wrong made right!

The attorneys are now trying to organize a class-action lawsuit for all parking violators in the City of Saginaw. Refunds of paid parking tickets could be in the future.

A decision by the 6th US District Court of Appeals is legal precedent and only binding in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. But I anticipate that the argument will soon spread across the US and the age-old practice of chalking tires will soon disappear.

So remember, if you return to your car and find a parking ticket, see if you have been “chalked”. If so, you owe the creative attorneys from Saginaw, Michigan a big thank you for protecting our Constitutional rights.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bradley W. Rapp is a Shareholder at Rapp & Krock, PC in the Business Transactions group.


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