New York v. Burger

LOCATION: United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division

DOCKET NO.: 86-80
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: New York Court of Appeals

CITATION: 482 US 691 (1987)
ARGUED: Feb 23, 1987
DECIDED: Jun 19, 1987

Elizabeth Holtzman - on behalf of the Petitioner
Stephen R. Mahler - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for New York v. Burger

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 23, 1987 in New York v. Burger

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear argument first this afternoon in Number 86-80, New York against Joseph Burger.

Ms. Holtzman, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Elizabeth Holtzman:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court:

The question here is whether the Constitution allows states, as it has allowed the federal government, to regulate a specific industry in order to meet a compelling public need and to enforce that regulatory scheme with warrantless inspections.

New York State's effort to regulate the vehicle dismantlers industry for the purpose of curbing the serious problem of auto theft with its attendant economic burdens and physical safety burdens falls squarely under the well settled criteria of Biswell, Colonnade and Donovan versus Dewey.

The New York regulatory scheme under 415-a of the Vehicle Traffic law is aimed at vehicle dismantlers and has three interrelated components: registration and re-registration on a periodic basis, comprehensive record keeping requirements, and warrantless inspections.

The administrative purposes of the regulatory scheme are as follows: the protection of legitimate vehicle dismantlers; to return more stolen cars to owners, which is an important purpose in and of itself and also to reduce insurance costs; by the record keeping requirement to deter would-be auto thieves; to trace cars back to the auto thieves; and to prevent the vehicle dismantling industry from being used as a mechanism for fencing stolen cars.

The statute at issue here has been criticized as being designed to allow police officers to conduct warrantless searches of inventory, and that the statute serves no real administrative purpose.

That reasoning is wrong.

It is wrong for a number of reasons.

It is wrong, first, because of the legislative history of the statute which establishes clearly that New York State first set up a regulatory scheme that included no inspection of inventory.

The inspection of inventory was added only six years... was added six years after the statute went into effect.

And the purpose of doing that was to make sure that the other components of the regulatory scheme worked; namely, the registration and the record keeping components.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

What would the difficulty be, Ms. Holtzman, of getting an administrative warrant, which of course can be obtained more easily than a warrant in a criminal case on probable cause?

Elizabeth Holtzman:

Well, the simple answer is there is no scheme allowing that in New York State, but beyond that--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

There is no authority--

Elizabeth Holtzman:


Sandra Day O'Connor:

--under New York State law to permit obtaining an administrative warrant?

Elizabeth Holtzman:


And it's also, under the case of Biswell, clear that under a routine administrative search, that with clearly delimited criteria on the basis of which a search can be conducted; in other words, in terms of reasonable time and the place and the scope of the search, that administrative warrant is not necessary under the prior holdings of this Court.

The complaint about the inventory inspection is that it was not really done for administrative purposes because there were no records there.

Our answer to this is that it is clear that inspections of inventory are crucial to enforce both the registration requirement and the record keeping requirement, first to make sure that the records are accurate, but in this case since there were no records there, the purpose of the administrative examination of the inventory was to make sure that vehicle dismantlers didn't develop this huge loophole.

If vehicle dismantlers knew that they could not produce records and thereby forestall a search, inspection of inventory, then clearly unscrupulous vehicle dismantlers would decide not to produce their records at the scene.

In addition--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

There is some suggestion in cases that one of the factors we would look at would be whether there are limits placed on the discretion of the inspectors, in this case the officers?

Elizabeth Holtzman:


Sandra Day O'Connor:

And I wonder if you would like to comment on the extent to which you think that these particular statutes have such limits.

I guess we have two here, the city of New York and the state law.

Elizabeth Holtzman:


Sandra Day O'Connor:

I don't think I saw any limits at all on the city's ordinance, and I am not sure there are very many in the state statute.