CASE ANALYSIS – TAYLOR VS CITY OF SAGINAW
facts of the case
- The central issue in the case revolves around the Defendant/City’s use of a common parking enforcement practice called chalking.
- City parking enforcement officers use chalk to mark the tires of parked vehicles to track how long they have been parked.
- Parking enforcement officers usually return to the car after the designated time to park has passed, and if the chalk marks are still there, a citation is issued.
- Appellant was a frequent recipient of parking tickets. She sued the City and its parking enforcement officer, claiming that chalking violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.
- Defendant/City filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), asserting that chalking was not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, or alternatively, if it was a search, was reasonable under the community caregiver exception
- The district court granted Defendant/City’s motion to dismiss
- appellant appealed
- Does the government’s conduct constitute a finding within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment?
- If the finding was reasonable?
- Does the government’s conduct constitute trespass within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment?
The court held that chalking is a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. The court references the Supreme Court ruling dealing with the “property-based” approach to the Fourth Amendment registration investigation in United States v. Jones , 565 US 400, 132 S.Ct. 945, 181 L.Ed.2d 911 (2012).
There has been a raid to obtain information
Under Jones , a search occurs when the government:
(1) trespassing on a constitutionally protected area,
(2) for information
The Court held that in this case there was a break-in because Defendant/City made intentional physical contact with Appellant’s vehicle.
The court then proceeded to determine whether the trespassing was “in conjunction with an attempt to find something or obtain information.” Neither party disputes that Defendant/City uses the chalk marks for the purpose of identifying vehicles that have been parked in the same location for a certain period of time. That information is then used by the Defendant/City to issue citations. The court held that the practice amounts to an attempt to obtain information under Jones .
- If the search was reasonable
- The Defendant/City failed to establish an exception to the warrant requirement.
- The search in question is not covered by the community caregiver exception
- Defendant/City fails to establish that any other exceptions apply to your warrantless search.
Arguments per respondent/city
- Even if chalking is a quest under Jones , the quest was reasonable
- There is a reduced expectation of privacy in a car.
- The search was subject to the community caregiver exception.
Non-applicability of the automobile exception
The court explained that although a car enjoys a “reduced expectation of privacy” because of its “easy mobility,” it is this diminished expectation of privacy that justifies the car’s exception to the warrant requirement. The automobile exception allows officers to search a vehicle without a warrant if they have “probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of a crime.” Here there was no such probable cause. Therefore, the automobile exception is inapplicable.
Respondent’s reliance on Cardwell rejected
Defendant/City referred to Cardwell v. Lewis , 417 US 583, 590, 94 S.Ct. 2464, 41 L.Ed.2d 325 (1974) and stated that if it was considered reasonable to scrape paint off an automobile without a warrant, then it is certainly reasonable to place washable chalk on a vehicle tire. The court distinguished the present case from Cardwell and held that
- The vehicle in Cardwell was towed away by police following an arrest.
- The warrantless search at Cardwell was confirmed on the basis that it was carried out for “probable cause”.
- Here, unlike Cardwell , the Defendant/City begins its search in vehicles that are legally parked, without probable cause or even “individualized suspicion of wrongdoing,” the touchstone of the reasonableness standard.
Therefore, the Court rejected Defendant/City’s argument that searching Appellant’s vehicle was reasonable based solely on his lesser expectation of privacy.
Non-Applicability of the Community Caregiver Exception.
- The respondent/city was unable to demonstrate how this record has a relationship to public safety.
- Defendant/City failed to demonstrate that the location or length of time Appellant’s vehicle was parked created the type of “hazard” or traffic impediment that amounted to a public safety problem. The defendant failed to show that delaying the discovery would result in “continued injury or harm to the community.”
- Rather, at the time of the search, Appellant’s vehicle was legally parked in a suitable parking spot, which did not pose any security risk.
The court held that since the purpose of chalking is to increase revenue and not mitigate public risk, the defendant/city was not acting in its “function as a caretaker of the community”.
The Court held the following,
- Chalking is a search under the Fourth Amendment, according to the Supreme Court’s decision in Jones .
- However, the Court does not expressly state that chalking violates the Fourth Amendment.
- The court narrows its order to state that two exceptions to the warrant requirement, the “community care” exception and the motor vehicle exception, do not apply to this case.
The District Court order granting Defendant/City’s motion to dismiss is reversed and returned.