Colonnade Catering Corporation v. United States

PETITIONER: Colonnade Catering Corporation
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 397 US 72 (1970)
ARGUED: Jan 15, 1970
DECIDED: Feb 25, 1970

Jerome Feit - For the Respondent
O. John Rogge - For Petitioner

Facts of the case

A group of federal agents entered Colonnade Catering’s (Colonnade) New York premises to search for resealed liquor bottles, possession of which is a violation of federal tax law. After searching for some time, the agents asked Colonnade’s president, Salvatore E. Rozzo, to unlock a locked liquor storeroom. Rozzo refused and asked the agents if they had a search warrant. The agents responded that they did not need one. When Rozzo continued to refuse to unlock the storeroom, the agents broke the lock, entered the storeroom, and seized 53 bottles of liquor and two funnels.

At trial, Colonnade moved to suppress the evidence discovered in the warrantless search and argued that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. The district court granted the motion. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the decision and held that the Fourth Amendment does not forbid warrantless administrative inspections. Therefore, the statutes, which authorize federal agents to enter any building or place where objects subject to a liquor tax are kept “so far as it may be necessary” in order to examine them during the day or business hours, do not violate the Fourth Amendment. The appellate court also found that the statutory provisions were equivalent to a warrant given their clarity and narrow scope.


Are warrantless administrative searches and seizures of liquor allowed under statute and, if so, reasonable under the Fourth Amendment?

Media for Colonnade Catering Corporation v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 1970 in Colonnade Catering Corporation v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

Colonnade Catering Corporation against the United States.

Mr. Rogge you may proceed whenever you're ready.

O. John Rogge:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

In this case, the Court should have before it in addition to the single appendix of the petitioner's brief and the Government's brief, a blue back petitioner's reply brief.

This case presents the issue whether the premises of those whose services include the sale of alcoholic beverages are outside the protection of the Fourth Amendment.

The Government says they are, we say they are not.

The Government points to inspection statutes, we point to the provisions for a warrant procedure.

The Government points to the age of the inspection provisions, we point to the fact that there has consistently been provision for a warrant procedure.

As to the facts in this case, there isn't a dispute, on a Saturday afternoon, a crew of four, three internal revenue agents and Nassau County Policeman came in to the petitioner's premises and demanded to inspect.

The petitioner as a caterer who as part of his service dispenses liquor and therefore has a federal occupational liquor dealer stamp that costs him $54.00.

After inspecting the --

Potter Stewart:

Is that annually renewable?

O. John Rogge:


Potter Stewart:

He has to get that every year?

O. John Rogge:

That's my understanding if Your Honor please.

Potter Stewart:


O. John Rogge:

Now, after they had inspected the public premises, they demanded to see the non-public premises and without permission they did that going into the basement and then this crew of four --

Hugo L. Black:

This crew, the officer?

O. John Rogge:

Three officers of the Internal Revenue Service and one Nassau County Policeman, patrolman, they were officers.

Hugo L. Black:

I'm just a little disturbed by your reference to the crew --

O. John Rogge:

Well, --

Hugo L. Black:

I think they worked over shift?

O. John Rogge:

There were four people Mr. Justice Black that I think in this case were engaged in the kind of a general exploratory search which was one of the factors involved in the American revolution and which subsequently led to the adoption of the Fourth Amendment, that's what I think happened in this case.

Now, after inspecting the public premises and going into the basement, they were later joined by a district area supervisor, so you now have five individuals who demanded entrance to a locked liquor storeroom which was 75 feet off the main premises.

They had no warrant, they claimed under the inspection statutes.

They were entitled to go in, the petitioner refused, they then broke the lock and entered and seized 53 bottles of liquor, some filled, some partially filled and two funnels.

Now, as to the 53 bottles of liquor they seized 38 of those and this their own receipt states which is at pages 11 (a) to 13 (a) to determine if genuine.

They seized 15 more bottles according to their own receipt as a comparative sample and they seized two funnels and they specifically stated that they seized those for evidence.

They said that in so many words.

Now, they were not engaged in seeking to collect any taxes because the petitioner paid its $54.00.