Issue of Chalking Tires Returns to the Courts

A chalked tire. Christine Sampson photo

Traffic control officers in uniform roam the streets, crosswalks and parking lots of every hamlet on the East End, keeping a watchful eye on traffic and parking on busy summer weekends. Often, they carry long sticks for “chalking” the tires of vehicles to make sure they have not exceeded time limits for parking.

After marking the tires, the TCOs return to the vehicles after the posted time for parking has passed. If the chalk mark is still there, it indicates that the car has not been moved, and the officer issues a citation or a ticket.

In June, Jay Goldberg — a well-known Manhattan attorney and Bridgehampton resident who is known for representing high-profile clients such as Bono, Mick Jagger, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones, Sean Combs, Johnny Cash, Lynyrd Skynyrd and, throughout his divorces and real estate transactions, President Donald Trump — was given an $80 parking ticket from an East Hampton Village TCO for overstaying a parking spot in front of the East Hampton movie theater while watching “Rocket Man” with his wife, Rema.

The ticket was issued after the TCO had chalked Mr. Goldberg’s car’s tire. The TCO later returned to the spot and determined that the car had not been moved in the two-hour time limit.

“Chalking is assuming,” Mr. Goldberg said in a phone interview on Friday afternoon. He will appear in East Hampton Town Justice Court on Monday, July 15, to bring a motion challenging the overtime parking ticket based on a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Taylor v. Saginaw, which deemed chalking unconstitutional.

In April, 38-year-old Alison Taylor sued the city of Saginaw, Michigan, stating that the practice is unconstitutional and is, in fact, an illegal search. She had received 15 parking tickets over the span of a few years. Ms. Taylor’s argument was that the chalking of a tire of a parked car to determine that the car had been parked in excess of a time limit cannot be used as a basis for an overtime ticket, because the ticketing officer is engaging in an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects the right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Ms. Taylor’s case wasn’t just a local case, according to Mr. Goldberg. In fact, it did catch the attention of national media, because the practice of chalking tires is so prevalent.

A district court had dismissed the case, stating that, although chalking could legitimately be considered a search, it is a reasonable search. Later, however, the 6th Circuit reversed that ruling, concluding that chalking involves physical intrusion and is intended to gather information. The appeals court concluded that the goal of chalking is not sufficient to justify a warrantless search.

In an amended ruling just days after its initial decision, the judges wrote that marking tires remains a search under the Fourth Amendment, but that it does not mean it violates the amendment, but rather that the city could not argue that the “community caretaking” exception to the warrant requirement did not apply in the case of chalking tires. That opens the door for attorneys representing Saginaw to present new information to argue why it remains constitutional. According to the Detroit Free Press, in early May, the City of Sagniaw asked the federal appeals court to set aside the decision altogether and rehear the case.

It took the position touching a car is trespassing and constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure, Mr. Goldberg said, adding that it is the same position he will take into local court — that his constitutional rights, established by the Fourth Amendment, were violated.

If he wins, based on the precedent set by the 6th Circuit ruling, it could mean that East Hampton — as well as Southampton Village, Sag Harbor Village, Westhampton Beach Village and other municipalities that chalk tires to monitor parking times — will have to abandon the practice.

“The towns really rely on chalking for overtime parking unless the town has meters,” Mr. Goldberg said, adding that parking meters are the solution and a reasonable way to make drivers conform to parking limits.

“I’m sure that East Hampton relies a great deal on overtime parking, particularly in the summertime … the village would lose a substantial sum of money from overtime parking,” he said.

In Ms. Taylor’s case, which accounts for all of Michigan, he said that villages, towns and cities will lose their ability to garner revenues through fines that were imposed after chalking.

On Tuesday morning, East Hampton Village Administrator Becky Molinaro Hansen said that the village is aware of the court decision. However, village officials “disagree that chalking is unconstitutional,” she said.

“Chalking is a mechanism for enforcement to ensure cars are complying with the legal parking regulations in the village, she said, “used by many municipalities across the country and the state. ”

As for parking meters, Ms. Molinaro Hansen said the village currently hopes to update parking enforcement equipment and replace the almost 20-year-old ticket-spitting machines it has—although she noted that the move is not related to the chalking case.

On Wednesday, Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin J. McGuire said the village would continue to use chalking as a means of parking enforcement. Chief McGuire said he believed this is an issue that will travel up the appeals court, perhaps to the Supreme Court, before it is ultimately decided.

“This will be a case that takes years to figure out,” he said. “It will be appealed and appealed and appealed.”

In the meantime, Chief McGuire said Sag Harbor Village has upgraded many of its ticketing and traffic control devices to scanners that use time-stamps and can take pictures that are then uploaded into the village justice court files. Last year, the village deployed four digital scanners; this year, that number has grown to seven.

“It should make everything far more efficient,” he said.

Revisiting whether or not to chalk is not something the chief says he can even contemplate during the busy summer season.

“We are at max capacity right now,” Chief McGuire said. “I honestly don’t know if I have ever seen it like this.”