See v. City of Seattle

RESPONDENT: City of Seattle
LOCATION: Bellmawr, New Jersey Police Department

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)

CITATION: 387 US 541 (1967)
ARGUED: Feb 15, 1967
DECIDED: Jun 05, 1967

Facts of the case


Media for See v. City of Seattle

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 15, 1967 in See v. City of Seattle

Earl Warren:

Number 180, Norman See, Appellant, versus City of Seattle.

Mr. Dorsen.

Norman Dorsen:

May it please the Court.

This is a companion case to Number 92, Camara which was heard before the luncheon recess.

This is the fire inspection case.

It arises under the Fire Code of Seattle Washington.

The same basic question is presented under somewhat different ordinance whether the Constitution protects citizens against unwarranted searches.

And unwarranted search is stated in two senses, one without a search warrant and two without any reasonable cause to enter.

The statute in issue is on page 5 of the record and I'd like to read it to the Court.

8.01.050 inspection of buildings and premises: It shall be the duty of the Fire Chief to inspect, and he may enter all buildings and premises except the interiors of dwellings as often as may be necessary for the purpose of ascertaining and causing to be corrected any conditions liable to cause fire or any violations to the provisions of this Title and of any other ordinance concerning fire hazards.

There are a couple of other ordinances and they're also in the record at the end of the Fire Code.

The appellant --

Earl Warren:

It says anything except dwellings?

Norman Dorsen:

Except dwel -- dwellings Mr. Chief Justice.

Earl Warren:

Well --

Norman Dorsen:

Appellant, Mr. See was convicted under 8.01.140 which appears at page 11 of the record.

It says, “Anyone violating or failing to comply with any provision of this Title or a lawful order of the Fire Chief shall upon conviction thereof be punishable by a fine not to exceed $300 or imprisonment in the City Jail for a period not to exceed 90 days, or by both such fine and imprisonment, and each day of violation shall con -- constitute a separate offense.

In the light of the case you heard this morning and the light of Frank v. Maryland and Eaton v. Price, it is apparent that this ordinance is in a sense the ultimate weapon of municipalities because unlike the ordinance in Frank v. Maryland, this ordinance does not have any of the finely tailored provisions.

It does not have a provision providing that the inspector must have reasonable cause to find the nuisance.

It doesn't even provide that the inspection take place at reasonable times and each of the four other ordinances before this Court have such a provision.

The Eaton ordinance, the Frank ordinance, the Camara ordinance and the ordinance in Hadley v. City of Malden of Massachusetts which was filed in January and it's on the miscellaneous docket.

Not only that, that this ordinance says nothing about credentials.

In other words, this is an ordinance which is completely open-ended as far as the power of inspection is concerned.

Now, the facts in this case are stipulated, they were stipulated from the start and they appear on pages 1 and 2 of the record.

Mr. See, the appellant, is the owner of a private warehouse in the City of Seattle.

The Fire Department, to its authorized representative demanded the defendant that an inspection be allowed as to the premises.

The Fire Department did not procure a search warrant and it made no claim that the Fire Department had any reasonable cause to believe a violation of the ordinance existed at the time of the demand.

The appellant refused to admit the inspection.

Eventually a warrant was issued for his arrest.

He was convicted in the Municipal Court, fined a $100 and a suspended fine.