City of West Covina v. Perkins

PETITIONER: City of West Covina
LOCATION: Alden's Workplace

DOCKET NO.: 97-1230
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 525 US 234 (1999)
ARGUED: Nov 03, 1998
DECIDED: Jan 13, 1999

David D. Lawrence - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Jeffrey S. Sutton - For Ohio et al., as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner
Patrick S. Smith - Argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

Police officers of the city of West Covina lawfully seized Perkins Lawrence's personal property from his home. The officers left a notice form specifying the facts of the search, its date, the searching agency, the date of the warrent, the issuing judge and his court, the persons to be contacted for information, and an itemized list of the property seized. The officers did not leave the search warrant number. Lawrence filed suit after attempts to obtain the seized property failed. The District Court ultimately ruled in favor of the city. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court. It held that the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment required that Lawrence be provided a detailed notice of state procedures for the return of seized property and the information to be able to invoke the procedures, along with the information he was already provided. This meant the search warrant number must be furnished or at least the method for obtaining it.


Does the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment require officers who seize someone's property lawfully to provide the owner with state procedures for the property's return?

Media for City of West Covina v. Perkins

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 03, 1998 in City of West Covina v. Perkins

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in No. 97 1230, the City of West Covina v. Lawrence Perkins.

Mr. Lawrence.

David D. Lawrence:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court--

This case involves the valid service of a search warrant and murder investigation in which the West Covina Police Department lawfully seized 17 items of property which they believed were evidence in that investigation.

The residents of the home, the respondents in this case, were not at home when the home was searched.

The officers left a notification of the search which provided a great deal of information.

It stated that the home had been searched.

It set forth the date of the search.

It provided that the search warrant was issued pursuant to the authority of the Citrus Municipal Court.

It identified the judge, Judge Oki, who had signed the search warrant.

It identified two West Covina police officers and their telephone numbers who could be contacted if the owners of the property had inquiries, and it set forth a specific list of the 17 items of property which had been seized.

Under California law, these police officers did not have the discretion to release that property once it had been seized.

Penal Code section 1536 required that they maintain custody of that property subject to an order of the court.

Shortly after seizure of this property, one of the respondents, Mr. Perkins, contacted the West Covina Police Department and advised that he was interested in obtaining return of some of that property.

The record is undisputed that when he made that call and when he contacted those officers, that he was advised that he would need to get a court order to get that property back.

The record is also undisputed that he was advised that he would have to contact Judge Oki in order to do so.

The record is also undisputed that at most the respondent, Mr. Perkins, went to the Citrus Municipal Court on one occasion, approximately 1 month after the seizure of the property.

The record shows that he asked for Judge Oki.

He was advised that Judge Oki was on vacation and might be back in a week, and he said that he attempted to find another judge who could release his property.

He was told that there was no file in his name and that another judge could not do that.

The record is also undisputed that he took no further actions to obtain return of that property.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Because he didn't have the warrant number.

And I was wondering why, since you... as you stated, you provided notice that there had been the seizure, why it wouldn't be a good idea simply to have the warrant number on the notice that's left and then we would have avoided this great Federal case.

David D. Lawrence:

Justice Ginsburg, I don't believe the record is clear that the warrant number or the absence of it really prevented the respondents from obtaining the return of the property.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

But whether that's so or not, it would make it easier if you had the warrant number to look up.

David D. Lawrence:

It might.

It might, but the record is really bare as to what those procedures were at the municipal court in terms of locating a file or something of that nature.

And in fact, as we submitted, one of the postdeprivation remedies the Ninth Circuit found to be adequate in this case is the procedure of mandamus.

Certainly a search warrant is not necessary for that.

Mandamus is a proceeding that compels a public officer like a judge to do their duty.