Advertisement
  1. Transportation

In four states, parking officers can no longer mark your tires. Florida isn't one of them.

A parking enforcement officer tags car tires with chalk along Central Avenue in downtown St Petersburg. On Monday, a federal appeals court said the practice violates the Fourth Amendment, but the ruling pertains to only four states, not Florida. [Times (2014)]
A parking enforcement officer tags car tires with chalk along Central Avenue in downtown St Petersburg. On Monday, a federal appeals court said the practice violates the Fourth Amendment, but the ruling pertains to only four states, not Florida. [Times (2014)]
Published Apr. 23

Marking tires with chalk to issue parking tickets is now illegal in four states, but ticket-weary Florida drivers should resist any urge to celebrate.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled unanimously Monday that the practice of "chalking" constitutes an unreasonable search, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The ruling, however, applies only to that circuit, which includes Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Florida is part of the 11th Circuit, so a separate case would need to be heard before any changes were enacted here.

MORE TRANSPORTATION COVERAGE: Partners propose seven-day ferry service linking Hillsborough, MacDill, Tampa, St. Pete

The cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater all use chalk to monitor parking, though to various degrees. In downtown St. Petersburg, parking enforcement officers routinely circle the area, placing chalk marks on the tires of parked vehicles. If the marks are still there after the posted time for parking has passed, the officer issues a $25 ticket.

Tampa and Clearwater mostly use an electronic system to accomplish the same task, but officers also have been chalking tires on occasion, especially for handicap spaces or during peak times.

As of this week, though, Tampa has stopped all manual chalking and, until further notice, will use only the electronic method, city spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said.

St. Petersburg has no plans to change its policy, though legal departments for both cities will monitor the issue.

"Chalking tires has been used for over 60 years … and is widely-used across the country as a non-invasive way to keep track of overtime parking," St. Petersburg city spokesman Ben Kirby said.

The appellate case originated in Saginaw, Mich., where Alison Taylor, "a frequent recipient of parking tickets," sued the city. Taylor argued that chalking constituted an unreasonable search.

Between 2014 and 2017, the same parking enforcement officer — Tabitha Hoskins — chalked Taylor's tires and issued tickets 15 times. Fines started at $15 and increased from there.

On April 5, 2017, Taylor had enough and sued the city. Chalking her tires without her consent or a valid warrant was an unreasonable search, she argued. A district court agreed that it constituted a search, but deemed it reasonable.

The appellate judges sided with Taylor, noting that the city was searching vehicles that were parked legally. The chalk mark, or search, was made "without probable cause, or even so much as 'individualized suspicion of wrongdoing' — the touchstone of the reasonableness standard," Judge Bernice Donald wrote in the opinion.

The case pertained only to the method the city uses to monitor parking, and does not prevent cities in Michigan or the other states from "maintaining efficient, orderly parking" and writing tickets.

ALSO READ: Driverless buses on Clearwater Beach? Maybe sooner than you think

"Obviously, they have a right to monitor how long somebody stays in a free space," Tampa lawyer Lyann Goudie said. "What they found was that the particular method the city used is unconstitutional."

Goudie was at first surprised at the ruling, calling the case "a weird one." But the opinion clearly lays out that marking a legally parked car is a trespass used to gather information with no probable cause.

Even if a similar case arose in Florida, Stetson University College of Law Professor Charles Rose said "there is no way in the world" the court here would make the same decision.

"I would give it a less than 2 percent chance," he said.

That's because the 11th circuit has historically taken a more conservative philosophy on the Fourth Amendment, Rose said. He also disagreed that marking a tire constitutes a search, instead citing an administrative search exception and equating it to mass DUI stops, which happen legally without probable cause.

"If I was advising a city, I would not be concerned about this happening here," Rose said. "But I might look at what ways we could use technology to accomplish the same goal without an actual physical intrusion on a car."

Taking a picture, like Tampa does, is one way to do that. It also provides enforcement officers with evidence to use in court.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. State Road 52 was closed for an hour and a half Thursday morning after a car hauler overturned. [Florida Highway Patrol]
    The driver lost control of his vehicle as he tried to turn into the Flying J parking lot.
  2. Cleveland, Ohio, has one of the highest rated bus rapid transit lines in the country, with features including a dedicated traffic lane. Hillsborough transit officials are making plans for bus rapid transit line between downtown Tampa and the University of South Florida. [Greater Cleveland Regional Transit]
    The project, using All For Transportation sales tax revenue, would run along Florida Avenue, Fowler and Bruce B. Downs.
  3. The new Maydell Drive Bridge will be a multi-use bridge to cater to cars, bicyclists and pedestrians with travel lanes, 8-foot shoulders, and a barrier-separated 5' sidewalk & 10' trail. [Hillsborough County]
    Hillsborough County closed the bridge in December 2015 after an independent engineering study found it was structurally unsound.
  4. "Lefty Lucy, Righty Tighty?", Siomara Bridges-Mata, 32, asks her coworkers as they assemble one of 900 bikes Friday when Amalie Arena transformed into Santa's Bike Shop. Bridges-Mata volunteered with Frameworks of Tampa Bay, Inc. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times]
    Local nonprofit Onbikes organizes the annual bike build to provide bicycles to kids in the community
  5. Service dog Eleanor Rigby unexpectedly gave birth to eight puppies at Tampa International Airport as her human family was waiting near gate F81 to board a flight to Philadelphia in May 2018. The airport is getting ready to add pet-relief areas at its airsides for service dogs. (EMILY NIPPS | Tampa International Airport) [Tampa International Airport]
    Work on the new amenities is expected to be completed by next July.
  6. This Wednesday, June 21, 2017, file photo shows the building that houses the headquarters of Uber, in San Francisco. Uber acknowledged more than 3,000 sexual assaults occurred during U.S. Uber rides in 2018, the company said in a long-awaited safety report. [ERIC RISBERG  |  AP]
    That figure includes 229 rapes across the company’s 1.3 billion rides.
  7. Michele Arceneaux, former president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, speaks during a press conference against three proposed toll roads in the Florida Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. [LAWRENCE MOWER  |  Lawrence Mower]
    The announcement came as the Florida Chamber of Commerce touted the proposed roads.
  8. The Cross-Bay Ferry cruises along the Vinoy Yacht Basin as it heads toward Tampa. The Vinoy condominiums can be seen in the background. The city hopes to attract more vessels for entertainment and tourism to the downtown waterfront. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
    Most of the increase is tied to an additional round-trip sailing on Sundays.
  9. The intersection at Seminole Boulevard and East and West Bay Drive forbids drivers from turning right, even on a green light. [FDOT]
    The intersection at Seminole Boulevard and the East/West Bay Drive is the only one in the district where drivers are restricted on green-light turns.
  10. Abiona Adadevoh addresses the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board Monday about an attack last month on bus driver Schnaider Prophete. Prophete, center, was saved bus bus rider John Phelps, right, when a passenger attacked him with mace and a box cutter. [Caitlin Johnston]
    The agency has installed safety shields to protect operators on about 80 percent of its fleet so far.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement