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NEW YORK v. BURGER

decided: June 19, 1987.

NEW YORK
v.
BURGER



CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK.

Blackmun, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and White, Powell, Stevens, and Scalia, JJ., joined. Brennan, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Marshall, J., joined, and in all but Part III of which O'Connor, J., joined, post, p. 718.

Author: Blackmun

[ 482 U.S. Page 693]

 JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether the warrantless search of an automobile junkyard, conducted pursuant to a statute authorizing such a search, falls within the exception to the warrant requirement for administrative inspections of pervasively regulated industries. The case also presents the question whether an otherwise proper administrative inspection is unconstitutional because the ultimate purpose of the regulatory statute pursuant to which the search is done -- the deterrence of criminal behavior -- is the same as that of penal laws, with the result that the inspection may disclose violations not only of the regulatory statute but also of the penal statutes.

I

Respondent Joseph Burger is the owner of a junkyard in Brooklyn, N. Y. His business consists, in part, of the dismantling of automobiles and the selling of their parts. His junkyard is an open lot with no buildings. A high metal fence surrounds it, wherein are located, among other things, vehicles and parts of vehicles. At approximately noon on November 17, 1982, Officer Joseph Vega and four other plainclothes officers, all members of the Auto Crimes Division of the New York City Police Department, entered respondent's

[ 482 U.S. Page 694]

     junkyard to conduct an inspection pursuant to N. Y. Veh. & Traf. Law § 415-a5 (McKinney 1986).*fn1 Tr. 6. On any given day, the Division conducts from 5 to 10 inspections of vehicle dismantlers, automobile junkyards, and related businesses.*fn2 Id., at 26.

Upon entering the junkyard, the officers asked to see Burger's license*fn3 and his "police book" -- the record of the automobiles

[ 482 U.S. Page 695]

     and vehicle parts in his possession. Burger replied that he had neither a license nor a police book.*fn4 The officers then announced their intention to conduct a § 415-a5 inspection. Burger did not object. Tr. 6, 47. In accordance with their practice, the officers copied down the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) of several vehicles and parts of vehicles that were in the junkyard. Id., at 7, 20, 44, 46. After checking these numbers against a police computer, the officers determined that respondent was in possession of stolen vehicles and parts.*fn5 Accordingly, Burger was arrested and charged with five counts of possession of stolen property*fn6

[ 482 U.S. Page 696]

     and one count of unregistered operation as a vehicle dismantler, in violation of § 415-a1.

In the Kings County Supreme Court, Burger moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the inspection, primarily on the ground that § 415-a5 was unconstitutional. After a hearing, the court denied the motion. It reasoned that the junkyard business was a "pervasively regulated" industry in which warrantless administrative inspections were appropriate, that the statute was properly limited in "time, place and scope," and that, once the officers had reasonable cause to believe that certain vehicles and parts were stolen, they could arrest Burger and seize the property without a warrant. App. to Pet. for Cert. 18a-19a. When respondent moved for reconsideration in light of a recent decision of the Appellate Division, People v. Pace, 101 App. Div. 2d 336, 475 N. Y. S. 2d 443 (1984), aff'd, 65 N. Y. 2d 684, 481 N. E. 2d 250 (1985),*fn7 the court granted reargument. Upon reconsideration,

[ 482 U.S. Page 697]

     the court distinguished the situation in Pace from that in the instant case. It observed that the Appellate Division in Pace did not apply § 415-a5 to the search in question, 125 Misc. 2d 709, 711, 479 N. Y. S. 2d 936, 938 (1984), and that, in any event, the police officers in that case were not conducting an administrative inspection, but were acting on the basis of recently discovered evidence that criminal activity was taking place at the automobile salvage yard. Id., at 712-714, 479 N. Y. S. 2d, at 939-940. The court therefore reaffirmed its earlier determination in the instant case that § 415-a5 was constitutional.*fn8 For the same reasons, the Appellate Division affirmed. 112 App. Div. 2d 1046, 493 N. Y. S. 2d 34 (1985).

The New York Court of Appeals, however, reversed. 67 N. Y. 2d 338, 493 N. E. 2d 926 (1986). In its view, § 415-a5 violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.*fn9 According to the Court of Appeals,

[ 482 U.S. Page 698]

     "the fundamental defect [of § 415-a5] . . . is that [it] authorize[s] searches undertaken solely to uncover evidence of criminality and not to enforce a comprehensive regulatory scheme. The asserted 'administrative schem[e]' here [is], in reality, designed simply to give the police an expedient means of enforcing penal sanctions for possession of stolen property." Id., at 344, 493 N. E. 2d, at 929. In contrast to the statutes authorizing warrantless inspections whose constitutionality this Court has upheld, § 415-a5, it was said, "do[es] little more than authorize general searches, including those conducted by the police, of certain commercial premises." Ibid. To be sure, with its license and recordkeeping requirements, and with its authorization for inspections of records, § 415-a appears to be administrative in character. "It fails to satisfy the constitutional requirements for a valid, comprehensive regulatory scheme, however, inasmuch as it permits searches, such as conducted here, of vehicles and vehicle parts notwithstanding the absence of any records against which the findings of such a search could be compared." Id., at 344-345, 493 N. E. 2d, at 929-930. Accordingly, the only purpose of such searches is to determine whether a junkyard owner is storing stolen property on business premises.*fn10

Because of the important state interest in administrative schemes designed to regulate the vehicle-dismantling or automobile-junkyard industry,*fn11 we granted certiorari. 479 U.S. 812 (1986).

[ 482 U.S. Page 699]

     II

A

The Court long has recognized that the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures is applicable to commercial premises, as well as to private homes. See v. City of Seattle, 387 U.S. 541, 543, 546 (1967). An owner or operator of a business thus has an expectation of privacy in commercial property, which society is prepared to consider to be reasonable, see Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 361 (1967) (Harlan, J., concurring). This expectation

[ 482 U.S. Page 700]

     exists not only with respect to traditional police searches conducted for the gathering of criminal evidence but also with respect to administrative inspections designed to enforce regulatory statutes. See Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., 436 U.S. 307, 312-313 (1978). An expectation of privacy in commercial premises, however, is different from, and indeed less than, a similar expectation in an individual's home. See Donovan v. Dewey, 452 U.S. 594, 598-599 (1981). This expectation is particularly attenuated in commercial property employed in "closely regulated" industries. The Court observed in Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc.: "Certain industries have such a history of government oversight that no reasonable expectation of privacy, see Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351-352 (1967), could exist for a proprietor over the stock of such an enterprise." 436 U.S., at 313.

The Court first examined the "unique" problem of inspections of "closely regulated" businesses in two enterprises that had "a long tradition of close government supervision." Ibid. In Colonnade Corp. v. United States, 397 U.S. 72 (1970), it considered a warrantless search of a catering business pursuant to several federal revenue statutes authorizing the inspection of the premises of liquor dealers. Although the Court disapproved the search because the statute provided that a sanction be imposed when entry was refused, and because it did not authorize entry without a warrant as an alternative in this situation, it recognized that "the liquor industry [was] long subject to close supervision and inspection." Id., at 77. We returned to this issue in United States v. Biswell, 406 U.S. 311 (1972), which involved a warrantless inspection of the premises of a pawnshop operator, who was federally licensed to sell sporting weapons pursuant to the Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U. S. C. § 921 et seq. While noting that "federal regulation of the interstate traffic in firearms is not as deeply rooted in history as is governmental control of the liquor industry," 406 U.S., at 315, we nonetheless concluded that the warrantless inspections

[ 482 U.S. Page 701]

     authorized by the Gun Control Act would "pose only limited threats to the dealer's justifiable expectations of privacy." Id., at 316. We observed: "When a dealer chooses to engage in this pervasively regulated business and to accept a federal license, he does so with the knowledge that his business records, firearms, and ammunition will be subject to effective inspection." Ibid.

The " Colonnade-Biswell " doctrine, stating the reduced expectation of privacy by an owner of commercial premises in a "closely regulated" industry, has received renewed emphasis in more recent decisions. In Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., we noted its continued vitality but declined to find that warrantless inspections, made pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 84 Stat. 1598, 29 U. S. C. § 657(a), of all businesses engaged in interstate commerce fell within the narrow focus of this doctrine. 436 U.S., at 313-314. However, we found warrantless inspections made pursuant to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, 91 Stat. 1290, 30 U. S. C. § 801 et seq., proper because they were of a "closely regulated" industry. Donovan v. Dewey, supra.

Indeed, in Donovan v. Dewey, we declined to limit our consideration to the length of time during which the business in question -- stone quarries -- had been subject to federal regulation. 452 U.S., at 605-606. We pointed out that the doctrine is essentially defined by "the pervasiveness and regularity of the federal regulation" and the effect of such regulation upon an owner's expectation of privacy. See id., at 600, 606. We observed, however, that "the duration of a particular regulatory scheme" would remain an "important factor" in deciding whether a warrantless inspection pursuant to the scheme is permissible. Id., at 606.*fn12

[ 482 U.S. Page 702]

     B

Because the owner or operator of commercial premises in a "closely regulated" industry has a reduced expectation of privacy, the warrant and probable-cause requirements, which fulfill the traditional Fourth Amendment standard of reasonableness for a government search, see O'Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709, 741 (1987) (dissenting opinion), have lessened application in this context. Rather, we conclude that, as in other situations of "special need," see New Jersey v. T. L. O., 469 U.S. 325, 353 (1985) (opinion concurring in judgment), where the privacy interests of the owner are weakened and the government interests in regulating particular businesses are concomitantly heightened, a warrantless inspection of commercial premises may well be reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

This warrantless inspection, however, even in the context of a pervasively regulated business, will be deemed to be reasonable only so long as three criteria are met. First, there must be a "substantial" government interest that informs the regulatory scheme pursuant to which the inspection is made. See Donovan v. Dewey, 452 U.S., at 602 ("substantial federal interest in improving the health and safety conditions in the Nation's underground and surface mines"); United States v. Biswell, 406 U.S., at 315 (regulation of firearms is "of central importance to federal efforts to prevent violent crime and to assist the States in regulating the firearms traffic within their borders"); Colonnade Corp. v. United States, 397 U.S., at 75 (federal interest "in protecting the revenue against various types of fraud").

Second, the warrantless inspections must be "necessary to further [the] regulatory scheme." Donovan v. Dewey, 452 U.S., at 600. For example, in Dewey we recognized that forcing mine inspectors to obtain a warrant before every inspection

[ 482 U.S. Page 703]

     might alert mine owners or operators to the impending inspection, thereby frustrating the purposes of the Mine Safety and Health Act -- to detect and thus to deter safety and health violations. Id., at 603.

Finally, "the statute's inspection program, in terms of the certainty and regularity of its application, [must] provid[e] a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant." Ibid. In other words, the regulatory statute must perform the two basic functions of a warrant: it 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. See Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., 436 U.S., at 323; see also id., at 332 (STEVENS, J., dissenting). To perform this first function, the statute must be "sufficiently comprehensive and defined that the owner of commercial property cannot help but be aware that his property will be subject to periodic inspections undertaken for specific purposes." Donovan v. Dewey, 452 U.S., at 600. In addition, in defining how a statute limits the discretion of the inspectors, we have observed that it must be "carefully limited in time, place, and scope." United States v. Biswell, 406 U.S., at 315.

III

A

Searches made pursuant to § 415-a5, in our view, clearly fall within this established exception to the warrant requirement for administrative inspections in "closely regulated" businesses.*fn13 First, the nature of the regulatory statute reveals ...


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