Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Association

RESPONDENT:Railway Labor Executives’ Association
LOCATION:Reproductive Health Services

DOCKET NO.: 87-1555
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 489 US 602 (1989)
ARGUED: Nov 02, 1988
DECIDED: Mar 21, 1989

Dick Thornburgh – on behalf of the Petitioners
Lawrence M. Mann – on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case

Recognizing the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse by railroad employees, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) implemented regulations requiring mandatory blood and urine tests of employees involved in certain train accidents. Other FRA rules allowed railroads to administer breath and urine tests to employees who violate certain safety rules.


Did the regulations violate the Fourth Amendment?

Media for Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Association

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 02, 1988 in Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Association

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 21, 1989 in Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Association

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinions of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

I have the opinion for the Court in Skinner versus Railway Labor Executives’ Association, and in National Treasury Employees’ Union versus Van Raab.

Skinner is the first of two cases we decide today which concerns challenges to the constitutionality to the different drug testing programs.

Here, the Federal Railroad Administration promulgated rules that require railroads after major train accidents or incidents occur to conduct blood and urine test of certain employees who are involved.

The rules were promulgated on the basis of evidence indicating an alcohol and drug abuse by railroad employees had caused to contributed to a number of significant train accidents.

Respondents who are an Executives’ Association and various labor organizations sought to enjoin the regulations, but the District Court upheld them fining that in these circumstances the test did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, one judge dissenting.

In an opinion we file today, we reverse the Court of Appeals and uphold the testing program.

We conclude first that the Fourth Amendment does apply to the drug and alcohol testing established under these regulations.

The testing is not purely private conduct because it occurs under the compulsion of government regulations, and the collection and analysis of the blood and urine samples are searches within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment for the intrude upon expectations of privacy that our society has long recognized as protected.

Nonetheless, we find that these tests are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment even though they are undertaken without a warrant and without individualized suspicion.

The regulation served compelling governmental interests that outweigh the privacy concerns of these employees.

Employees are prohibited from using alcohol or drugs while on duty, and the testing program helps to ensure that the restrictions are observed.

Requiring a warrant before testing could occur would be of little value here since the circumstances and the limits of the intrusions are specifically defined and well-known to the employees covered by the program which also vest minimal discretion in the officials who administered.

And the warrant requirement would significantly hinder the purposes of the program since the delay needed to get a warrant could allow the destruction of valuable evidence as alcohol and drugs leave the bloodstream during that period.

Finally, individualized suspicion is not necessary here to support the reason of list of the testing procedures.

The railroad Industry is subject to pervasive health and safety regulations and the affected employees already have consented to significant restrictions imposed by the employers.

In light of the limited discretion exercised by the railroad employers under the regulations, the surpassing safety interests served by the test in this context and the diminished expectations of privacy that attached to information pertaining to the fitness of covered employees, we believe that it is reasonable to conduct such tests in the absence of the warrant or of suspicion that any particular employee maybe impaired.

We hold that the alcohol and drug test contemplated by the regulations are reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Stevens has filed a separate opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment; Justice Marshall has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Brennan has joined.