Wednesday, February 21, 2007

“Closely-regulated industry” exception to warrant requirement, as applied to PA Liquor Control Board, requires that Board officials conduct search

In a civil action under section 1983 alleging that a warrantless search of their tavern violated plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights, defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that the search had been conducted lawfully pursuant to the closely-regulated industry exception. That exception "requires that the search or seizure actually be carried out in accordance with a regulatory scheme that provides a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant." The defendants argued that the search was authorized under the Pa. Liquor Control Board’s regulations. Because the record showed that the search had been conducted by local police and not by any officials of the Board, the court examined Pa. law to determine whether the search met the requirements of the exception. Reviewing the state statutes and caselaw, the court determined that the regulatory scheme in Pa. only permits warrantless inspection by specified categories of individuals connected to the Board or working under their direction. Because the plaintiffs alleged that the search was performed by local police acting without any grant of authority by the Board, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment and allowed the case to proceed. Watson v. Abington Township,, 2/16/07.

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