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Chalk it up: Michigan parking dispute could cover thousands

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 25, 2022

By Ed White Associated Press

DETROIT – Lawyers who argued that a Michigan city violated the U.S. Constitution by chalking tires have successfully turned the case into a class action potentially affecting thousands of parking tickets.

A judge twice dismissed the unusual lawsuit against Saginaw, but it was overturned both times by an appeals court.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington will give Saginaw yet another opportunity to claim that tire chalking was a legal way to enforce parking limits, though he said the city’s arguments after two losses don’t seem “immediately compelling.”

In the same order, Ludington last week approved a request to make the case a class action. It means vehicle owners who were ticketed since 2014 could be compensated unless Saginaw turns things around and wins the litigation. A trial was set for Aug. 30.

The lawsuit began in 2017 when Alison Taylor sued to challenge 14 parking tickets.

Her lawyers, Philip Ellison and Matthew Gronda, argued that Saginaw was violating the Fourth Amendment by marking tires with chalk without a search warrant and then returning to write a ticket if the vehicle was parked too long.

Saginaw said marking a tire was a “minimal intrusion” when weighed against the city’s interest in managing parking.

Ludington ruled in the city’s favor and dismissed the case. But the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals twice has reversed his decisions.

“Tire chalking is not necessary to meet the ordinary needs of law enforcement, let alone the extraordinary,” Judge Richard Griffin said in a 3-0 opinion last August.

Tire chalking was used in approximately 4,800 parking tickets, which cost $15 or $30, depending on whether they were paid on time, Ellison said in a court filing Monday.

He’s eager to get Ludington’s approval to send postcards to people who could be affected. Ellison is also challenging tire marking in Ann Arbor and Bay City.

Decisions by the 6th Circuit set legal precedent in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. But the Taylor case has also been cited by lawyers suing Los Angeles and San Diego over a similar practice in those California cities.

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