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Federal appeals court says tire-chalking for parking enforcement is unconstitutional


    Savannah Peterson of the Alpena Downtown Development Authority checked parked cars, Monday, in Alpena, Mich. A federal court said Michigan cities can’t mark tires as a way to enforce parking restrictions.

SAGINAW, Mich. >> Communities around Michigan expressed surprise Tuesday but abandoned a low-tech way to keep an eye on parking violators after a federal court said marking tires without a warrant violates the U.S. Constitution.

An appeals court ruled against Saginaw in a dispute over chalking tires downtown to ensure a vehicle doesn’t exceed a two-hour parking limit. The court on Monday said it’s an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

“It’s a fairly common practice, especially in smaller communities” without parking meters, said Chris Johnson, a lawyer with the Michigan Municipal League, a statewide group that represents local governments.

“I was kind of shocked to see a decision like that,” said Johnson, a former Northville mayor. “Chalking a tire is a very unobtrusive (step) to determine if a car has moved in the last three hours. If they were breaking into a car and checking mileage — that’s a whole different story.”

In Alpena, where parking is checked by the Downtown Development Authority, an employee was armed with a clipboard Tuesday but nothing to mark tires.

“We will continue taking license plate numbers down, which has always been common practice, and check them that way,” executive director Anne Gentry told The Alpena News.

Bay City, another city that marks tires, stopped writing downtown parking tickets after the court decision. Parking enforcement typically brings in $25,000 a year, said Suzanne Maxwell of the Downtown Development Authority.

Saginaw City Manager Tim Morales declined to comment. Alison Taylor, an employee at MLive Media Group, sued Saginaw over its tire-chalking policy after getting more than a dozen parking tickets. She declined to comment on her victory.

The city could ask the full appeals court to reopen the case or it could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The three-judge panel that declared tire marking unconstitutional included Damon Keith, a longtime defender of civil liberties, and Raymond Kethledge, who was on President Donald Trump’s short list for the Supreme Court. Both are from Michigan.

Johnson said communities without parking meters might need to chalk the ground instead of a tire or come up with another way to keep track of how long a car is parked.

“There are quite a few questions coming in now,” he told The Associated Press.

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