Marshall v. Barlow’s, Inc.
436 U.S. 307 (U.S. Supreme Court 1978)
MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
Section 8(a) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA or Act) empowers agents of the Secretary of Labor (Secretary) to search the work area of any employment facility within the Act’s jurisdiction. The purpose of the search is to inspect for safety hazards and violations of OSHA regulations. No search warrant or other process is expressly required under the Act.
On the morning of September 11, 1975, an OSHA inspector entered the customer service area of Barlow’s, Inc., an electrical and plumbing installation business located in Pocatello, Idaho. The president and general manager, Ferrol G. “Bill” Barlow, was on hand; and the OSHA inspector, after showing his credentials, informed Mr. Barlow that he wished to conduct a search of the working areas of the business. Mr. Barlow inquired whether any complaint had been received about his company. The inspector answered no, but that Barlow’s, Inc., had simply turned up in the agency’s selection process. The inspector again asked to enter the nonpublic area of the business; Mr. Barlow’s response was to inquire whether the inspector had a search warrant.
The inspector had none. Thereupon, Mr. Barlow refused the inspector admission to the employee area of his business. He said he was relying on his rights as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Three months later, the Secretary petitioned the United States District Court for the District of Idaho to issue an order compelling Mr. Barlow to admit the inspector. The requested order was issued on December 30, 1975, and was presented to Mr. Barlow on January 5, 1976. Mr. Barlow again refused admission, and he sought his own injunctive relief against the warrantless searches assertedly permitted by OSHA.…The Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment protects commercial buildings as well as private homes. To hold otherwise would belie the origin of that Amendment, and the American colonial experience.
An important forerunner of the first 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Virginia Bill of Rights, specifically opposed “general warrants, whereby an officer or messenger may be commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact committed.” The general warrant was a recurring point of contention in the Colonies immediately preceding the Revolution. The particular offensiveness it engendered was acutely felt by the merchants and businessmen whose premises and products were inspected for compliance with the several parliamentary revenue measures that most irritated the colonists.…
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This Court has already held that warrantless searches are generally unreasonable, and that this rule applies to commercial premises as well as homes. In Camara v. Municipal Court, we held:
[E]xcept in certain carefully defined classes of cases, a search of private property without proper consent is ‘unreasonable’ unless it has been authorized by a valid search warrant.
On the same day, we also ruled: As we explained in Camara, a search of private houses is presumptively unreasonable if conducted without a warrant. The businessman, like the occupant of a residence, has a constitutional right to go about his business free from unreasonable official entries upon his private commercial property. The businessman, too, has that right placed in jeopardy if the decision to enter and inspect for violation of regulatory laws can be made and enforced by the inspector in the field without official authority evidenced by a warrant. These same cases also held that the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches protects against warrantless intrusions during civil as well as criminal investigations. The reason is found in the “basic purpose of this Amendment…[which] is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by governmental officials.” If the government intrudes on a person’s property, the privacy interest suffers whether the government’s motivation is to investigate violations of criminal laws or breaches of other statutory or regulatory standards.…
[A]n exception from the search warrant requirement has been recognized for “pervasively regulated business[es],” United States v. Biswell, 406 U.S. 311, 316 (1972), and for “closely regulated” industries “long subject to close supervision and inspection,” Colonnade Catering Corp. v. United States, 397 U.S. 72, 74, 77 (1970). These cases are indeed exceptions, but they represent responses to relatively unique circumstances. Certain industries have such a history of government oversight that no reasonable expectation of privacy could exist for a proprietor over the stock of such an enterprise. Liquor (Colonnade) and firearms (Biswell) are industries of this type when an entrepreneur embarks upon such a business, he has voluntarily chosen to subject himself to a full arsenal of governmental regulation.
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The clear import of our cases is that the closely regulated industry of the type involved in Colonnade and Biswellis the exception. The Secretary would make it the rule. Invoking the Walsh-Healey Act of 1936, 41 U.S.C. § 35 et seq., the Secretary attempts to support a conclusion that all businesses involved in interstate commerce have long been subjected to close supervision of employee safety and health conditions. But…it is quite unconvincing to argue that the imposition of minimum wages and maximum hours on employers who contracted with the Government under the Walsh-Healey Act prepared the entirety of American interstate commerce for regulation of working conditions to the minutest detail. Nor can any but the most fictional sense of voluntary consent to later searches be found in the single fact that one conducts a business affecting interstate commerce. Under current practice and law, few businesses can be conducted without having some effect on interstate commerce.
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The critical fact in this case is that entry over Mr. Barlow’s objection is being sought by a Government agent. Employees are not being prohibited from reporting OSHA violations. What they observe in their daily functions is undoubtedly beyond the employer’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The Government inspector, however, is not an employee. Without a warrant he stands in no better position than a member of the public. What is observable by the public is observable, without a warrant, by the Government inspector as well. The owner of a business has not, by the necessary utilization of employees in his operation, thrown open the areas where employees alone are permitted to the warrantless scrutiny of Government agents. That an employee is free to report, and the Government is free to use, any evidence of noncompliance with OSHA that the employee observes furnishes no justification for federal agents to enter a place of business from which the public is restricted and to conduct their own warrantless search.
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[The District Court judgment is affirmed.]
- State, as briefly and clearly as possible, the argument that Barlow’s is making in this case.
- Why would some industries or businesses be “closely regulated”? What are some of those businesses?
- The Fourth Amendment speaks of “people” being secure in their “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” Why would the Fourth Amendment apply to a business, which is not in a “house”?
- If the Fourth Amendment does not distinguish between closely regulated industries and those that are not, why does the court do so?