City of Los Angeles v. Patel

PETITIONER: City of Los Angeles
RESPONDENT: Naranjibhai Patel, et al.
LOCATION: United States District Court, Central District of California

DOCKET NO.: 13-1175
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 576 US (2015)
GRANTED: Oct 20, 2014
ARGUED: Mar 03, 2015
DECIDED: Jun 22, 2015

E. Joshua Rosenkranz - for the petitioner
Michael R. Dreeben - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae, for the petitioner
Thomas C. Goldstein - for the respondents

Facts of the case

Naranjibhai and Ramilaben Patel are owners and operators of motels in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) requires motel operators to keep records with specified information about their guests. The LAMC also authorizes police officers to inspect hotel records at any time without a search warrant. The Patels filed suit and argued that the provision violated their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. The city of Los Angeles argued that motels are "closely regulated" businesses and are therefore subject to warrantless inspections.

The district court determined that motels were not subjected to the same kind of pervasive and regular regulations as other recognized "closely regulated" businesses. Nonetheless, the court held that motels do not have an ownership interest that gives rise to a privacy right in their records because the records were created to comply with the ordinance. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit initially affirmed, but later reversed in rehearing en banc. The appellate court held that the hotel records were private "papers" protected by the Fourth Amendment and that the LAMC's warrantless search provision was unreasonable because it does not provide for pre-compliance judicial review of an officer's demand to inspect a motel's records.


Is a municipal ordinance that allows police to inspect hotel records without a warrant inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment's privacy expectations?

Media for City of Los Angeles v. Patel

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 03, 2015 in City of Los Angeles v. Patel

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 22, 2015 in City of Los Angeles v. Patel

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Sotomayor has our opinion this morning in case 13-1175, City of Los Angeles v. Patel.

Sonia Sotomayor:

This case comes to us from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Los Angeles Municipal Code requires hotel operators to maintain records containing certain information regarding their guests.

It also compels hotels to make these records available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection on demand.

The questions presented are whether facial challenges to statutes authorizing warrantless searches can be brought under the Fourth Amendment, and if so, whether the provision of the LA Code that requires hotel operators to turn over their guests' registries to the police is facially invalid.

We first clarify that facial challenges under the Fourth Amendment are not categorically barred or especially disfavored.

A facial challenge is an attack on a statute itself as opposed to a particular application.

The Court has never held that such claims cannot be brought under any otherwise enforceable provision of the Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment is no exception.

Indeed on numerous occasions this Court has declared statutes facially invalid under the Fourth Amendment.

Turning to the merits of respondent's claim we begin with the well-established rule that searches conducted without prior approval by a judge are per se unreasonable subject to only a few well-defined exceptions.

One exception is for administrative searches, that is, searches intended to serve an aim other than a general interest in crime control.

We assume that the searches at issue here serve such a purpose ensuring that hotels are complying with the city's record-keeping requirements, but that is not the end of our analysis.

We have held that for an administrative search to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment the subject of the search must be given an opportunity to obtain pre-compliance review in front of a neutral decision-maker before facing penalties for refusing to comply with the search.

We see no reason why this minimal requirement should not apply here.

Absent an opportunity for pre-compliance review Los Angeles law creates an intolerable risk that the searches that it authorizes will exceed statutory limits or be used as a pretext to harass hotel operators and their guests.

Regardless of how frequently a hotel is searched, the operator can only refuse to comply with an officer's demand to turn over the registry at his or her own peril.

Accordingly, we affirm the Ninth Circuit's holding that the provision of the LA Code that compels hotel operators to turn over their guests' registries to police on demand is facially unconstitutional.

Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justice Thomas join.

Justice Alito has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Thomas joined.