Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Huber v. New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection

Mar 21: The U.S. Supreme Court denied to hear the case of Huber v. New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection (No. 10-388) with a written statement from Justice Alito respecting the denial. The statement was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, and Justice Thomas.
    The issues in the case were: (1) Whether the evidence obtained by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection during an unannounced, warrantless inspection of wetlands in the backyard behind petitioners' home, over their repeated objections, should be suppressed because it was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) whether the Fourth Amendment entitles petitioners to greater protection from warrantless searches and seizures on their residential property than a closely regulated business, even when their property contains regulated wetlands; (3) whether the warrantless inspection and seizure of soil samples at petitioners' property was valid under the "special public needs" exception to the warrant requirement; and (4) whether residents lose the right to be free from warrantless inspections of their property due to the presence of regulated wetlands.
    The statement issued by Justice Alito indicates, "Our cases recognize a limited exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement for searches of businesses in 'closely regulated industries.' . . . The thinking is that, other things being equal, the 'expectation of privacy in commercial premises' is significantly less than the 'expectation in an individual's home.' . . . And where a business operates in an industry with a 'long tradition of close government supervision' -- liquor dealers and pawnbrokers are classic examples -- the expectation of privacy becomes 'particularly attenuated.' . . .
    "In this case, a New Jersey appellate court applied this doctrine to uphold a warrantless search by a state environmental official of Robert and Michelle Huber's backyard. . . The Hubers' residential property contains wetlands protected by a New Jersey environmental statute. . . According to the court below, the presence of these wetlands brought the Hubers' yard 'directly under the regulatory arm' of the State 'just as much' as if the yard had been involved in a 'regulated industry.' . . . 

    "This Court has not suggested that a State, by imposing heavy regulations on the use of privately owned residential property, may escape the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. But because this case comes to us on review of a decision by a state intermediate appellate court, I agree that today's denial of certiorari is appropriate. . . It does bear mentioning, however, that 'denial of certiorari does not constitute an expression of any opinion on the merits.'"

    Access the statement from Justice Alito (click here). Access the petitions, briefs and the opinion of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division in the case (click here).

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