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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld San Diego’s longstanding practice of chalking tires to enforce time limits in parking spaces on city streets, the City Attorney’s Office announced Thursday.
In a split 2-1 decision, the panel voted that the dusting of chalk on a tire does not constitute a ”search” under the Fourth Amendment. Plaintiffs argued chalking tires is an intrusion on personal liberty and falls within the amendment’s administrative search exception.   

The plaintiffs, Andre Verdun and Ian Anoush Golkar, argued in their 2019 class-action suit against the city and its police department that chalking tires is an unconstitutional intrusion on owners of legally parked vehicles.

A judge granted the city’s motion for summary judgment early last year, and the plaintiffs appealed.

In the majority opinion, Judge Daniel Bress wrote that chalking tires falls under the Fourth amendment’s administrative search exception.

Bress also wrote that the practice’s intrusion on personal liberty “is de minimis at most” and stated, “chalking involves no detention of persons or property; it does not damage property or add anything permanent to it; and the search does not create `substantial anxiety,’ as some searches may.”

In a statement, City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said that ”San Diego has chalked tires as an effective, cost-efficient, and accurate means of parking enforcement for nearly 100 years. The court was correct in determining that chalking a tire does not represent an illegal search and in rejecting the plaintiffs unsupported, revisionist account of Fourth Amendment doctrine.”

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Patrick Bumatay said the city’s practice “violates the constitutional rights of its citizens” by allowing for warrantless searches.

Bumatay said the chalking policy constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment and one that is conducted without evidence of wrongdoing. The judge said the searches don’t fall under the administrative search exception because it did not address “a pressing and exceptional governmental interest,” such as conducting sobriety checkpoints.

“It is no doubt true that law enforcement, traffic enforcement and almost any other government function would be more efficient and more convenient if officers could skirt the Fourth Amendment. But inconvenience is the constitutional design,” the judge wrote.

 – City News Service

Updated 10:25 p.m. Oct. 27, 2022


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Ellen Bullock