Hanlon v. Berger

LOCATION:Attorney General Office

DOCKET NO.: 97-1927
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 526 US 808 (1999)
ARGUED: Mar 24, 1999
DECIDED: May 24, 1999

Henry H. Rossbacher – Argued the cause for the respondents
Lawrence R. Fletcher-Hill – on behalf of the State Respondents in No. 98-83
Richard A. Cordray – Argued the cause for the petitioners
Richard K. Willard – on behalf of the Petitioners in No. 98-83

Facts of the case

In 1993, a magistrate judge issued a warrant authorizing the search of Paul and Erma Berger’s Montana ranch for evidence of the taking of wildlife in violation of federal law. Later, a multiple-vehicle caravan consisting of government agents and a crew of photographers and reporters from CNN proceeded to the ranch. In executing the warrant, the federal officers allowed the media crew to accompany and observe them. Subsequently, the Berger’s filed suit, asserting that the officials, special agents of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and an assistant United States attorney, had violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment. The District Court concluded that the officials were entitled to qualified immunity, as no clearly established law protecting individuals from the commercial recording of a search of their premises existed at the time. The Court of Appeals reversed.


Do federal agents violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures when they let representatives of the news media accompany and observe their conduct in the execution of a search warrant?

Media for Hanlon v. Berger

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 24, 1999 in Hanlon v. Berger

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 24, 1999 in Hanlon v. Berger

William H. Rehnquist:

The second case I have to announce is No. 97-1927, Hanlon against Berger which is the companion case to Wilson against Layne.

In this case agents of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service search the ranch and its outbuildings.

While accompanied by a CNN camera crew.

This case, it raises the same issues as Wilson against Layne does.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the agents violated the clearly established Fourth Amendment rights of the homeowners.

Under our holding today in Wilson that right was not clearly established at the time of this search which was also in the early part of the 90s.

The agents are therefore entitled to qualify the immunity and the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.