Post details: CA5: SWAT team cannot conduct administrative search

05/11/09

Permalink 03:57:16 am, by fourth, 807 words, 4419 views   English (US)
Categories: General

CA5: SWAT team cannot conduct administrative search

A private club corporation had standing to bring its own Fourth Amendment claim for a raid on the club. Defendants' violent SWAT team raid on the club was not within the consent given to patrons to enter. It also was not a reasonable administrative search. Even as an administrative search, it cannot be a pretext for a criminal search. Club Retro LLC v. Hilton, 568 F.3d 181 (5th Cir. 2009):

Taking plaintiffs' factual allegations as true, defendants did not enter Club Retro as would a typical patron; instead, they chose to project official authority by entering with weapons drawn in a S.W.A.T. team raid. They lacked any particularized suspicion or probable cause when they subsequently searched Club Retro, its attic, and the separate apartment and seized and searched all of its patrons and employees. Thus, defendants' entry and search was not a reasonable acceptance of Club Retro's invitation to the public. Any other conclusion would be an invitation for S.W.A.T. team raids by law enforcement officers of any business that is open to the public and would severely undermine the Fourth Amendment protections afforded to owners of commercial premises.

We are likewise not convinced by defendants' second argument that they conducted a permissible administrative inspection. Although Louisiana statutes and Rapides Parish ordinances authorizing administrative inspections may have provided justification for an entry and inspection of Club Retro, no such law permits the scope and manner of the raid that plaintiffs allege occurred here. It is true that a commercial property owner's Fourth Amendment rights are "particularly attenuated in commercial property employed in 'closely regulated' industries." Burger, 482 U.S. at 700. The liquor industry has been a closely regulated industry. Colonnade Catering Corp. v. United States, 397 U.S. 72, 77 (1970). The owner of a liquor establishment's attenuated Fourth Amendment interests "may, in certain circumstances, be adequately protected by regulatory schemes authorizing warrantless inspections." Donovan, 452 U.S. at 599; Colonnade Catering Corp., 397 U.S. at 77; see also Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 654-55 (1979); Bruce, 498 F.3d at 1248 ("Under certain limited circumstances, the Constitution permits warrantless administrative searches. It never permits unreasonable ones.").

. . .

Even under a valid inspection regime, the administrative search cannot be pretextual. See Burger, 482 U.S. at 724 ("In the law of administrative searches, one principle emerges with unusual clarity and unanimous acceptance: the government may not use an administrative inspection scheme to search for criminal violations."); see also, e.g., City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 37 (2000); Abel v. United States, 362 U.S. 217, 226 (1960); United States v. Johnson, 994 F.2d 740, 742 (10th Cir. 1993) (holding that an administrative inspection is a sham if it is "a pretext solely to gather evidence of criminal activity." (emphasis added)). And, in all cases, the Fourth Amendment's reasonableness requirement applies to government officials conducting administrative inspections of private commercial property. See Burger, 482 U.S. at 702; Donovan, 452 U.S. at 598.

. . .

During oral argument, defendants did not attempt to justify the scope and manner of the raids as reasonable, admitting instead that reasonableness is a fact-based question for which they must defer to the allegations of the amended complaint at this stage of the litigation. Administrative inspections, by their very nature, require more limited, less intrusive conduct than is alleged to have occurred here. We thus conclude that defendants' S.W.A.T. team entries and extensive searches, as described in the amended complaint, unreasonably exceeded the scope of Louisiana and Rapides Parish administrative inspection laws. Any other conclusion would allow the administrative inspection exception to swallow the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement for searches of private property.

Our conclusion is supported by case law holding that an administrative inspection regime cannot support armed raids, broad searches, and extended detentions. In Swint v. City of Wadley, 51 F.3d 988 (11th Cir. 1995), the Eleventh Circuit relied on existing Supreme Court precedent to reject qualified immunity as a defense for officers who conducted two raids of a nightclub that were comparable in relevant respects to the raid here. There, a S.W.A.T. team of thirty to forty officers, wearing ski masks, swarmed a club after receiving a signal from an undercover officer who had probable cause to arrest one patron for an illegal drug transaction. Id. at 993. The officers pointed their weapons at many of the club's patrons and employees; prohibited the owners, employees, and patrons from moving or leaving; searched all individuals; refused patrons' and employees' requests to use the restrooms; searched the club, its cash registers, and door receipts; and maintained control of the premises and persons for between one and one and one-half hours. Id. The court concluded that the officers could point to "no authority that even suggests that the search and seizure of one suspect in a public place can be bootstrapped into probable cause for a broad-based search of the business establishment and its patrons." Id. at 997 (citing Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U.S. 85 (1979)).

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