CA6: Limited personnel records request in mine safety investigation was reasonable

The Mine Safety division of the Department of Labor acted reasonably under the Fourth Amendment in requesting personnel records in an investigation into a discrimination claim. The mine was part of a pervasively regulated industry, the company had time to respond to the request which was limited and reasonable, and the request was within the purview of the agency’s safety mandate. Hopkins County Coal v. Perez, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 13083, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 22467 (6th Cir. July 18, 2017) (order published November 2017):

Next, we ask whether warrantless inspections of company documents during the course of discrimination investigations are necessary to further the regulatory scheme. The Secretary’s general authority to conduct investigations arises under § 103(a). This section explicitly provides that, “[f]or the purpose of making any inspection or investigation under this [Act], the Secretary … with respect to fulfilling his responsibilities under this [Act], or any authorized representative of the Secretary … shall have a right of entry to, upon, or through any coal or other mine.” 30 U.S.C. 813(a) (emphasis added). Further, the Senate Report is persuasive to support the position that warrantless entry under § 103(a) was intended to apply equally to both inspections and investigations under the Act by stating that, “[t]he Committee intends to grant a broad right-of-entry to the Secretaries or their authorized representatives to make inspections and investigations of all mines under this Act without first obtaining a warrant.” S.Rep. No. 95-181, at 27 (1977), reprinted in 1977 U.S.C.C.A.N. 3401, 3427 (emphasis added). The Senate Report further states that, “a warrant requirement would seriously undercut this Act’s objectives” because “many safety or health hazards may be concealed if advance warning of inspection is obtained.” Id.; see also Donovan, 452 U.S. at 603. Thus, § 103(a) intended to permit warrantless right-of-entry to the Secretary for the purpose of both inspection and investigation, including the discrimination investigation undertaken by the Secretary in this case pursuant to § 105(c)(2). Warrantless discrimination investigations, just like the regular inspections at issue in Donovan, are therefore necessary to the enforcement of the regulatory scheme. See Donovan, 452 U.S. at 603-604.

Finally, we ask whether “the statute’s inspection program, in terms of the certainty and regularity of its application,” provides a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant. Burger, 482 U.S. at 703. In order to comply with this standard, the statute “must advise the owner of the commercial premises that the search is being made pursuant to the law and has a properly defined scope, and it must limit the discretion of the inspecting officers.” Id.; see also Biswell, 406 U.S. at 315 (“[i]n the context of a regulatory inspection system of business premises that is carefully limited in time, place, and scope, the legality of the search depends not on consent but on the authority of a valid statute”). Donovan already confirmed that § 103(a) comports with the Fourth Amendment, and that “the Act establishes a predictable and guided federal regulatory presence.” Donovan, 452 U.S. at 604. The anti-discrimination provision of the Mine Act additionally defines the scope of the investigation and limits the discretion of inspecting officers because it requires that a copy of the complaint be forwarded to the owner of the commercial premises. 30 U.S.C. 815(c)(2).

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