Fourth Amendment

Is chalking tires a Fourth Amendment violation? Exception doesn't protect city, 6th Circuit says

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The city of Saginaw, Michigan, can’t cite an administrative search exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement to justify chalking tires, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Cincinnati ruled Wednesday in an appeal by Alison Taylor, who challenged the city’s practice of chalking after receiving 14 parking tickets, report the Associated Press and Bloomberg Law.

Taylor had filed a would-be class action suit against the city and the parking enforcement officer for the alleged Fourth Amendment violation under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act.

In its Aug. 25 opinion, the 6th Circuit refused to toss the Fourth Amendment claim against the city. But the appeals court ruled for the city parking officer, concluding that she is entitled to qualified immunity because the constitutional violation wasn’t clearly established.

The appeals court first considered the Fourth Amendment issue in an April 2019 opinion in the same case. At that time, the court ruled that chalking tires is a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, and the city is not protected by either the community-caretaking or motor-vehicle exception to the warrant requirement.

On remand, a federal judge said the search was justified by a different exception for administrative searches. The exception applies when a search is conducted for an administrative purpose under a regulatory scheme—such as inspecting a home for compliance with a municipal housing code.

The 6th Circuit reversed in an opinion by Judge Richard Allen Griffin.

The exception isn’t “a free-for-all for civil officers,” Griffin wrote. The subject of an administrative search generally must get an opportunity for precompliance review, which doesn’t happen when chalking tires results in a parking ticket. Nor do exceptions to the precompliance review requirement apply, the appeals court said.

The appeals court said it expresses no opinion whether the chalking could be justified by remaining exceptions to the warrant requirement.

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