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Yannotti v. City of Ann Arbor

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

October 28, 2019

SEAN ANTHONY YANNOTTI, on behalf of himself and a class of all other similarly situated as described, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF ANN ARBOR and CITY OF ANN ARBOR DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION. Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STRIKE AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION [10] [15]

          NANCY G. EDMUNDS, JUDGE

         This dispute centers on a parking ticket issued to Plaintiff Sean Anthony Yannotti and the constitutionality of the City of Ann Arbor's alleged practice of chalking tires as part of its parking enforcement procedures. In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, the City of Ann Arbor and the City of Ann Arbor Downtown Development Association[1], chalked his tires to obtain information to justify the issuance of the parking ticket and that this act of chalking violated his Fourth Amendment rights under the Sixth Circuit's recent opinion in Taylor v. City of Saginaw, 922 F.3d 328 (6th Cir. 2019). Plaintiff asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Defendants' alleged violation of his constitutional rights and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to stop Defendants' enforcement of the parking ticket. More broadly, Plaintiff asserts claims on behalf of a putative class of individuals who were also issued parking tickets pursuant to Defendants' allegedly unconstitutional chalking practices. On behalf of the class, Plaintiff seeks injunctive and declaratory relief prohibiting Defendants from continuing their allegedly unconstitutional chalking practices and seeks damages in the form of a refund of all fines and fees paid on tickets issued because of chalking.

         Two motions are pending before the Court. The City moves to strike Plaintiff's request for damages from the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f). (ECF No. 10.) The City maintains the damages sought by Plaintiff-a refund of fines paid on parking tickets where tire marking was used-are not available as a matter of law, and therefore asks the Court to strike the damage allegations from the complaint as “immaterial and inappropriate.” Plaintiff opposes the motion. Plaintiff also moves the Court to enter a preliminary injunction preventing Defendants from continuing enforcement and collection efforts for the parking ticket issued to him. (ECF No. 15.) On October 8, 2019, the Court held a hearing in connection with the motions. For the reasons set forth below, the City's motion to strike is DENIED and Plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction is DENIED.

         I. Background

         On April 6, 2019, Plaintiff received a parking ticket in the City of Ann Arbor. A copy of the ticket is attached as Exhibit A to Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. Plaintiff's vehicle was parked on a street with a single automated parking meter for all cars in the parking zone. In this particular parking zone, there is not an individual meter for each spot or vehicle. As the Court understands, parkers pay at the single meter and place a parking receipt in their vehicle indicating the appropriate parking fee was paid and the time by which they must leave their parking spot.

         Plaintiff's parking ticket reflects that Plaintiff's tires were marked from 9:57 to 11:59, and that the parking ticket was issued at 11:59. However, the ticket does not indicate that Plaintiff was ticketed for parking in the same place too long or beyond a two-hour time limit. And there is no evidence in the record establishing that the parking zone at issue imposed a two-hour maximum parking time limit. Instead, Plaintiff's ticket states the parking violation was for an expired meter. Under “Violation Description”, the ticket provides “parked at expired meter.” The ticket notes “Ordinance C126 10:72(1)” which the City claims applies to expired meters, as opposed to § 10:72(2) which applies when a vehicle is parked longer than the maximum duration of time permitted. The ticket also notes a paid time start of 11:07 and a paid time expired of 11:17.[2] The ticket imposed a $25.00 fine on Plaintiff for his violation and warned that the fine would increase if Plaintiff failed to pay within fourteen days.

         On April 22, 2019, the Sixth Circuit issued its opinion in Taylor v. City of Saginaw, 922 F.3d 328 (6th Cir. 2019).[3] The Court held that law enforcement's chalking of tires constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment and reversed the district court's dismissal of the plaintiff's Fourth Amendment violation claims. Id. But the Court did not hold that tire chalking violates the Fourth Amendment. See Taylor, 922 F.3d at 336. The Court found that the plaintiff sufficiently stated a claim for violations of the Fourth Amendment to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) and that a more developed record was required to address whether the “search” was in fact unreasonable, or more specifically, whether any of the exceptions to the warrant requirement applied. Id.

         On April 25, 2019, Plaintiff initiated the instant action. In his complaint[4], Plaintiff challenges the constitutionality of his parking ticket under Taylor and claims the Defendants' chalking of his tires violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Plaintiff asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C § 1983 and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief preventing Defendants from enforcing the ticket. Plaintiff also challenges Defendants' chalking practice on behalf of a class of all individuals “who were subject to the unconstitutional methodology of the placement of a chalk mark on one of the four ties of vehicles to obtain information to justify the issuance of thousands of parking tickets through the territorial limits of the City of Ann Arbor.” In connection with his class claims, Plaintiff seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, nominal damages, and actual damages in the form of a return of “fines and fees obtained as a result of violations of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages and an award of attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C § 1988.

         It does not appear from the record that Plaintiff paid his parking ticket. On July 29, 2019, Plaintiff received a final notice to pay his parking ticket from Defendants. Plaintiff submits a copy of this notice as Exhibit B to his motion for preliminary injunction. The final notice includes a late fee of $55.00, bringing Plaintiff's total fine to $80.00. The notice describes Plaintiff's violation as “expired meter.” The notice states that it is the final notification before the parking violations will be sent to the 15th District Court as civil infractions. And the notice warns that Plaintiff's failure to respond may result in the impoundment of his vehicle.[5]

         The City claims that following the Sixth Circuit's decision in Taylor, it voluntarily stopped chalking vehicles and instructed its contractor to stop collection and enforcement efforts for all parking tickets that may have been issued because of chalking. The City explains that enforcement of Plaintiff's ticket was not originally halted because his violation was for an expired meter, and therefore was not “included in the group of tickets where collection efforts were halted.” The City states that they have now voluntarily ceased enforcement efforts on Plaintiff's ticket pending the outcome of this litigation.

         II. The City's Rule 12(f) motion to strike

         The City moves this Court pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) to strike Plaintiff's request for damages. The City argues that refunds of fines paid because of or in connection with a Fourth Amendment violation are not recoverable as damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as a matter of law, and therefore the Court should strike Plaintiff's request for damages from the complaint as “immaterial and inappropriate.”

         Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a district court “may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Striking is a drastic remedy and is viewed with disfavor. See Operating Engineers Local 324 Health Care Plan v. G & W Const. Co., 783 F.3d 1045, 1050 (6th Cir. 2015). “The motion to strike should be granted only when the pleading to be stricken has no possible relation to the controversy.” Parlak v. U.S. Immigration & Customs Enf't, No. 05-2003, 2006 WL 3634385, at *1 (6th Cir. Apr. 27, 2006) (quoting Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. United States, 201 F.2d 819, 822 (6th Cir. 1953)). Ultimately, the decision to strike a pleading is firmly within the discretion of the court. Spizizen v. Nat'l City Corp., No. 09-11713, 2010 WL 419993, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 1, 2010) (citation omitted).

         In Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co., 618 F.3d 970, 973-76 (9th Cir. 2010), the Ninth Circuit held as a matter of first impression that Rule 12(f) does not authorize a district court to strike a claim for damages because such damages are precluded by law. The issue in Whittlestone was whether the district court abused its discretion by striking claims for lost profits and consequential damages from the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(f). Id. In considering whether a Rule 12(f) motion could be used to strike damage allegations from a complaint, the Ninth Circuit began its analysis with the plain text of the Rule. Id. The court found the plaintiff's claim for ...


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