Chalking tires illegal, judge says, but Saginaw gets big break

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A Michigan city violated the U.S. Constitution by fearing tires to enforce parking limits, but it won’t be forced to refund thousands of tickets in the class action lawsuit, a judge has ruled.

Saginaw should only pay vehicle owners “nominal damages” of $1.00 for each marking, U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington said Monday.

“The fundamental problem is that the chalking is relatively harmless,” he said, noting that there was no damage to the cars.

Saginaw staff marked tires and then wrote tickets if they returned to find a vehicle had been parked too long.

After five years of litigation, including two appeals to a higher court, Ludington ruled in favor of Alison Taylor, who received 14 tickets. The judge said marking the tires without a warrant violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.

“No reasonable person would argue that something as insignificant and transient as chalk on a tire violates a reasonable expectation of privacy. But the Fourth Amendment protects more than expectations that society deems reasonable,” Ludington said.

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Saginaw, among other arguments, had cited a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of police investigating a murder and scraping paint from a vehicle without a search warrant. Ludington said that case didn’t fit.

“The government’s interest in solving a murder is considerably greater than the government’s interest in enforcing a parking order,” he said.

Tire chalking was used in about 4,800 Saginaw parking tickets, which cost $15 or $30, depending on whether they were paid on time, Taylor’s attorney Phil Ellison said in a court filing. .

Saginaw stopped flouring tires in 2019.

“We cleaned the clock. We did very well. No one had ever done this before,” Ellison said Tuesday.

But he said he was still trying to figure out why the judge only ordered $1 per chalk as a remedy. A call back and forth is possible.

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