Donovan v. Dewey

LOCATION: Dames & Moore

DOCKET NO.: 80-901
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 452 US 594 (1981)
ARGUED: Apr 28, 1981
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1981

Francis R. Croak - on behalf of the Appellees
Kenneth Steven Geller - on behalf of the Appellant

Facts of the case


Media for Donovan v. Dewey

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 28, 1981 in Donovan v. Dewey

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Donovan v. Dewey.

Mr. Geller, I think you may proceed.

Kenneth Steven Geller:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The issue in this case is whether a federal mine inspector is required to obtain a search warrant before conducting a routine safety and health inspection of mine facilities such as stone quarries pursuant to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.

The four courts of appeals that have addressed this question have upheld the constitutionality of the Act.

However, the district court in this case concluded that a warrant was required to search appellee's quarry and therefore declared the warrantless inspection provisions of the statute unconstitutional.

The Government has taken a direct appeal from that ruling.

The facts may be briefly stated.

The appellee, Waukesha Lime and Stone Company, operates a limestone quarry and mill facility in Wisconsin.

The quarry consists of two open pits that are as deep as 30 feet in some places.

Generally, about three times a day workers use explosives to dislodge pieces of rock from the wall of the quarry.

The limestone is then taken to a crushing facility where it is crushed and sorted according to size, and the stone is then taken to a building known as the dust house where it is dried, ground, and bagged for direct sale to customers.

Waukesha's facility has been subject to regular safety and health inspections by state officials for about 60 years and it has been subject to federal safety and health inspection since 1966 when Congress passed the predecessor of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act.

Now, in April, 1978, a federal mine inspector showed up at Waukesha's mine to conduct a routine health and safety inspection.

Following the inspection he cited Waukesha for 25 violations of mandatory health and safety standards.

A few months later the same inspector showed up to conduct a follow-up inspection to determine whether Waukesha had corrected the most serious of these violations, specifically, whether the airborne concentrations of silica dust in the dust house had been lowered.

Inhalation of excessive amounts of silica dust leads to a condition known as silicosis which is a very serious respiratory disease, even more serious than black lung disease.

Waukesha's president, appellee Douglas Dewey, refused to allow the inspector to undertake the follow-up inspection without a search warrant.

At that point the inspector discontinued the inspection and issued a citation to the company for denial of entry.

The citation was followed by a proposed civil penalty of $1,000.

In addition, the Secretary thereafter brought this action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, to enjoin appellees from refusing to permit warrantless inspections of their quarry pursuant to the Mine Safety Act.

And as I noted a moment ago, the district court denied that injunction and instead held in reliance on this Court's decision in Marshall v. Barlow's that the Act's warrantless inspection provisions violate the Fourth Amendment.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Geller, you're doubtless familiar with the Steagald case that this Court decided a couple of weeks ago, where it said that law enforcement officers, even though they possess an arrest warrant, could not go into the house of a third person to seize the person for whom they had the warrant.

Now, certainly crime has been a heavily regulated business in the last 50 or 60 years just like mining.

If one were to apply Steagald to this type of case, don't you think the district court's opinion probably has something to be said for it?

Kenneth Steven Geller:

I think if Steagald were applicable to this sort of case, the district court's opinion would have a lot to be said for it, but we don't read Steagald as wiping out the exception to the warrant requirement exemplified by cases such as Biswell, for pervasively regulated businesses.

William H. Rehnquist:

What about a pervasively regulated business like organized crime?

Kenneth Steven Geller:

Well, Congress has not attempted to pass that sort of a statute.

It's passed a statute which we think is quite similar to the statute that this Court upheld in Biswell, and I don't recall that there was anything in the Steagald opinion which cast any doubt on the continuing validity of Biswell, and therefore we continue to rely on Biswell.

This is a regulatory search, for purposes of finding whether there are health and safety violations and not for purposes of finding evidence of a crime.