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Taylor v. City of Saginaw

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division

September 15, 2017



          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON, United States District Judge

         On April 5, 2017, Plaintiff Alison Taylor filed a complaint advancing an unorthodox legal theory: that the City of Saginaw's practice of placing a chalk mark on parked cars while enforcing parking regulations violates the Fourth Amendment. ECF No. 1. Taylor names the City of Saginaw and Tabitha Hoskins, a City of Saginaw parking enforcement official, as Defendants. After Taylor filed an amended complaint, ECF No. 9, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 10. For the following reasons, that motion will be granted.


         Plaintiff Alison Patricia Taylor lives in the County of Saginaw. Since 2014, Taylor has received fourteen parking tickets “for allegedly exceeding the time limit of a parking spot.” Am. Compl. at 2, ECF No. 9.[1] Taylor alleges that all fourteen tickets were issued by Defendant Tabitha Hoskins, “the most prolific issuer of parking tickets” in the City of Saginaw. Id. at 3. Each parking ticket included the date and time that the tire of Taylor's vehicle was marked with a “chalk-like substance.” Id.

         According to Taylor, “[i]t is the official custom and practice of Defendant [City of Saginaw] for its parking enforcement officials (including Defendant [Hoskins]) to use this methodology of placing a chalk mark on one of the four tires of the vehicles to obtain information to justify the issuance of parking tickets throughout the territorial limits of the City of Saginaw.” Id. Taylor alleges that Hoskins's practice is to chalk tires and then photograph the vehicle in question in order to “surreptitiously obtain information to justify the issuance of numerous parking tickets.” Id. The practice of chalking tires is ongoing.

         In her amended complaint, Taylor frames a putative class action suit against Defendants premised on the theory that the chalk marks violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Taylor requests the Court certify the case as a class action, declare Defendants' chalking practice unconstitutional, order Defendants to cease chalking vehicles, and order refunds of all tickets issued in reliance on the chalk marks.


         Defendants are moving for dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A pleading fails to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) if it does not contain allegations that support recovery under any recognizable legal theory. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court construes the pleading in the non-movant's favor and accepts the allegations of facts therein as true. See Lambert v. Hartman, 517 F.3d 433, 439 (6th Cir. 2008). The pleader need not provide “detailed factual allegations” to survive dismissal, but the “obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In essence, the pleading “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face” and “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (quotations and citation omitted).


         In their motion to dismiss, Defendants argue, simply, that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit municipalities from placing chalk marks on parked vehicles to aid in enforcement of parking regulations. That argument appears unremarkable. But Taylor believes that the Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Jones clearly establishes the unconstitutionality of “chalking.” 565 U.S. 400. Taylor places more weight upon the Jones decision than it can bear. For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss will be granted.


         The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures:

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.

U.S. Const. Amend. IV.

         The Fourth Amendment analysis thus proceeds in two steps: 1) did a search or seizure occur, and if so, 2) was that search or seizure unreasonable? See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 (1968) (explaining that a Fourth Amendment “search” occurs when a person is stopped and patted down, but that a pat-down search does not violate the Fourth Amendment as long as the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is occurring). Warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively unreasonable. See Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 459 (2011).

         After the Supreme Court's decision in Katz v. United States, the determination that a search or seizure occurred required satisfaction of two elements: “first that a person have exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy and, second, that the expectation be one that society is prepared to recognize as ‘reasonable.'” 389 U.S. 347, 361 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring). In United States v. Jones, however, the Supreme Court revived an alternative basis for Fourth Amendment protection. Specifically, the Jones Court held that “the Government's installation of a GPS device on a target's vehicle” was a search under the Fourth Amendment because the physical installation of the device on the vehicle constituted a trespass of the defendant's property rights. 565 U.S. at 404. The majority opinion expressly confirmed that it was not relying on the Katz-two part analysis in holding that a search occurred:

Jones's Fourth Amendment rights do not rise or fall with the Katz formulation. At bottom, we must “assur[e] preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.” [Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 34 (2001)] As explained, for most of our history the Fourth Amendment was understood to embody a particular concern for government trespass upon the areas (“persons, houses, papers, and effects”) it enumerates. Katz did not repudiate that understanding. Less than two years later the Court upheld defendants' contention that the Government could not introduce against them conversations between other people obtained by warrantless placement of electronic surveillance devices in their homes. The opinion rejected the dissent's contention that there was no Fourth Amendment violation “unless the conversational privacy of the homeowner himself is invaded.” Alderman v. United States, 394 U.S. 165, 176, 89 S.Ct. 961, 22 L.Ed.2d 176 ...

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