Taylor v. City of Saginaw

Decision Date25 April 2019
Docket NumberNo. 17-2126,17-2126
Citation922 F.3d 328
Parties Alison Patricia TAYLOR, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF SAGINAW; Tabitha Hoskins, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

ARGUED: Philip L. Ellison, OUTSIDE LEGAL COUNSEL PLC, Hemlock, Michigan, for Appellant. Brett Meyer, O’NEILL, WALLACE & DOYLE, P.C., Saginaw, Michigan, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Philip L. Ellison, OUTSIDE LEGAL COUNSEL PLC, Hemlock, Michigan, for Appellant. Brett Meyer, O’NEILL, WALLACE & DOYLE, P.C., Saginaw, Michigan, for Appellees.

Before: KEITH, KETHLEDGE, and DONALD, Circuit Judges.

BERNICE BOUIE DONALD, Circuit Judge.

AMENDED OPINION

The City of Saginaw (the "City") uses a common parking enforcement practice known as "chalking," whereby City parking enforcement officers use chalk to mark the tires of parked vehicles to track how long they have been parked. Parking enforcement officers return to the car after the posted time for parking has passed, and if the chalk marks are still there—a sign that the vehicle has not moved—the officer issues a citation. Alison Taylor, a frequent recipient of parking tickets, sued the City and its parking enforcement officer Tabitha Hoskins, alleging that chalking violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search. The City moved to dismiss the action. The district court granted the City’s motion, finding that, while chalking may have constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment, the search was reasonable. Because we chalk this practice up to a regulatory exercise, rather than a community-caretaking function, we REVERSE .

I.BACKGROUND

Between 2014 and 2017, Tabitha Hoskins chalked Taylor’s tires on fifteen separate occasions and issued her citations in kind. Each citation included the date and time the chalk was placed on her vehicle’s tires. The cost of a citation starts at $ 15 and increases from there.

On April 5, 2017, Taylor filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the City, alleging defendants violated her Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches by placing chalk marks on her tires without her consent or a valid search warrant. Taylor also sued Hoskins in her individual capacity. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), asserting that chalking was not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, or alternatively, if it was a search, it was reasonable under the community caretaker exception.1 Hoskins also asserted a qualified immunity defense.

The district court granted the defendantsmotion to dismiss, finding that the City engaged in a search as defined by the Fourth Amendment by placing chalk marks on Taylor’s tires to gather evidence of a parking violation. The district court, however, agreed with the defendants that the search was reasonable because: (1) there is a lesser expectation of privacy in automobiles; and (2) the search was subject to the community caretaker exception to the warrant requirement.2 Taylor timely appeals.

II.ANALYSIS
A. Standard of Review

"We review de novo a district court’s decision to grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)." In re Darvocet, Darvon, & Propoxyphene Prods. Liab. Litig. , 756 F.3d 917, 926 (6th Cir. 2014). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quotation marks omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citation omitted). On a motion to dismiss, "[w]e must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all allegations as true." Keys v. Humana, Inc. , 684 F.3d 605, 608 (6th Cir. 2012). "The defendant has the burden of showing that the plaintiff has failed to state a [plausible] claim for relief."

Directv, Inc., v. Treesh , 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Carver v. Bunch , 946 F.2d 451, 454–55 (6th Cir. 1991) ).

The Fourth Amendment protects the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. "The basic purpose of this Amendment, as recognized in countless decisions of [the Supreme] Court, is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by governmental officials." Camara v. Mun. Court of City & Cty. of S.F. , 387 U.S. 523, 528, 87 S.Ct. 1727, 18 L.Ed.2d 930 (1967). The Fourth Amendment "gives concrete expression to a right of the people which ‘is basic to a free society.’ " Id. (quoting Wolf v. People of State of Colorado , 338 U.S. 25, 27, 69 S.Ct. 1359, 93 L.Ed. 1782 (1949) ).

To determine whether a Fourth Amendment violation has occurred, we ask two primary questions: first, whether the alleged government conduct constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment; and second, whether the search was reasonable. We address each in turn.

B. Search

The answer to the first question is yes, chalking is a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. The Supreme Court has articulated two distinct approaches to determine when conduct by a governmental agent constitutes a search. Under the most prevalent and widely-used search analysis articulated in Katz v. United States , 389 U.S. 347, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967), a search occurs when a government official invades an area in which "a person has a constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy." Id. at 360, 88 S.Ct. 507 (Harlan, J., concurring). Under Katz , a search is analyzed in two parts: "first that a person exhibit an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy and, second, that the expectation be one that society is prepared to recognize as ‘reasonable.’ " Id. at 361, 88 S.Ct. 507. A "physical intrusion" is not necessary for a search to occur under Katz . See id. at 360, 88 S.Ct. 507.

In recent years, however, the Supreme Court revisited the seldom used "property-based" approach to the Fourth Amendment search inquiry in United States v. Jones , 565 U.S. 400, 132 S.Ct. 945, 181 L.Ed.2d 911 (2012). Under Jones , when governmental invasions are accompanied by physical intrusions, a search occurs when the government: (1) trespasses upon a constitutionally protected area, (2) to obtain information. Id. at 404–405, 132 S.Ct. 945.

In Jones , the government surreptitiously attached a GPS device to a car to track the car’s movements. Id. at 403, 132 S.Ct. 945. The Supreme Court held that the government’s trespass upon an effect—the vehicle—to obtain information related to the car’s movement was a search. Id. at 404–405. Jones echoed the understanding that the "[t]he Katz reasonable-expectation-of-privacy test has been added to , not substituted for, the common-law trespassory test." Id. at 409, 132 S.Ct. 945. (emphasis in original). For our purposes, Jones provides the appropriate analytical framework for determining whether chalking constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

In accordance with Jones , the threshold question is whether chalking constitutes common-law trespass upon a constitutionally protected area. Though Jones does not provide clear boundaries for the meaning of common-law trespass, the Restatement offers some assistance. As defined by the Restatement, common-law trespass is "an act which brings [about] intended physical contact with a chattel in the possession of another." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 217 cmt. e (1965). Moreover, "[a]n actor may ... commit a trespass by so acting upon a chattel as intentionally to cause it to come in contact with some other object." Id. Adopting this definition, there has been a trespass in this case because the City made intentional physical contact with Taylor’s vehicle. As the district court properly found, this physical intrusion, regardless of how slight, constitutes common-law trespass. This is so, even though "no damage [is done] at all." Jones , 565 U.S. at 405, 132 S.Ct. 945 (quoting Entick v. Carrington , 95 Eng. Rep. 807, 817 (C.P. 1765)).

Our search analysis under Jones does not end there. Rather, once we determine the government has trespassed upon a constitutionally protected area, we must then determine whether the trespass was "conjoined with ... an attempt to find something or to obtain information." Id. at 408, 132 S.Ct. 945 n.5. Here, it was. Neither party disputes that the City uses the chalk marks for the purpose of identifying vehicles that have been parked in the same location for a certain period of time. That information is then used by the City to issue citations. As the district court aptly noted, "[d]espite the low-tech nature of the investigative technique ... , the chalk marks clearly provided information to Hoskins."3 This practice amounts to an attempt to obtain information under Jones .4

Having answered the first question under our Fourth Amendment analysis, we now turn to whether the search was reasonable.

C. Reasonableness

Taylor argues that the search was unreasonable because the City fails to establish an exception to the warrant requirement. Specifically, Taylor argues that the search at issue is not covered by the community caretaker exception and that the City fails to establish that any other exception applies to their warrantless search. The City responds that, even if chalking is a search under Jones , the search was reasonable because there is a reduced expectation of privacy in an automobile.

The City further contends that the search was subject to the community caretaker exception. We disagree with the City.

The Fourth Amendment does not proscribe all searches, "but only those that are unreasonable." Skinner v. Ry. Labor Executives’ Ass’n , 489 U.S. 602, 619, 109 S.Ct. 1402...

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