Soldal v. Cook County, Illinois
Decided on Dec. 8, 1992; 506 US 56


A. Issues Discussed:  Criminal Justice (4th Amendment)

B. Legal Question Presented: 

Is the seizure and removal of a mobile home an event which invades the owner's privacy and/or violates his liberty interests sufficient to invoke Fourth Amendment protections?


A. Background:

During the pendency of eviction proceedings - but before a hearing and a final judgment - the Soldal family's mobile home was forcibly removed from its footings by employees of the property management company which ran the mobile home park.  This action contradicted Illinois law, which provided that a tenant could not be dispossessed without a final judgment of eviction.  The removal of the mobile home was done in the presence of five deputy sheriffs, all of whom knew that the property management company was acting without a final eviction ruling and was therefore acting illegally.
While his mobile home was in the process of being ripped from its moorings, Mr. Soldal told two of the deputies that he wished to file a complaint for criminal trespass.  Work halted for almost an hour while one of the deputies made Mr. Soldal wait while the deputy spoke with the property manager and, by phone, with the district attorney.  After approximately 50 minutes, Mr. Soldal was told that the dispute had to remain between he and the management company and that the eviction was going to proceed.
Five days later a state judge ruled that the seizure and removal of the home had been illegal and ordered the mobile home to be moved back to its original site.  The home, however, had been damaged during the removal and the Soldal family brought suit, alleging Fourth and Fourteenth (due process) violations by the property management company in a conspiracy with the deputies.  The district court entered summary judgment against the Soldals on the grounds that they had not proven a conspiracy and that, therefore, no state action was present.
The Seventh Circuit, construing the facts in favor of the Soldals, accepted their contention that there was state action. However, it went on to hold that no criminal trespass charges or other criminal charges could be brought because, under Illinois law, a criminal action cannot be used to determine the right of possession.  The Seventh Circuit also indicated that no privacy nor liberty right of the Soldals had been violated. 
The Soldals were eventually evicted per court order two months later.

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the seizure and removal of the Soldals' trailer home implicated their Fourth Amendment rights.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
John L. Stainthorp argued the cause for petitioner. Kenneth L. Gillis argued the cause for respondent.

With him on the brief were Jack O'Malley, Renee G. Goldfarb, and Kenneth T. McCurry.

C. The Arguments:

Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
James D. Holzhauer, Timothy S. Bishop, John A. Powell, Steven R. Shapiro, Harvey M. Grossman, and Alan K. Chen filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, et al., as amici curiae urging reversal. Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the National League of Cities, et al., by Richard Ruda, Carter G. Phillips, Mark D. Hopson, and Mark E. Haddad.

"The Fourth Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth [Amendment]... provides in pertinent part that the 'right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...
A 'seizure' of property... occurs when 'there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in that property'... As a result of the state action in this case, the Soldals' domicile was not only seized, it literally was carried away, giving new meaning to the term 'mobile home.'  We fail to see how being unceremoniously dispossessed of one's home in the manner alleged to have occurred here can be viewed as anything but a seizure invoking the protection of the Fourth Amendment. Whether the Amendment was in fact violated is, of course, a different question that requires determining if the seizure was reasonable.  That inquiry entails the weighing of various factors and is not before us...
We do not agree with [the Seventh Circuit's]... interpretation of the Fourth Amendment. The Amendment protects the people from unreasonable searches and seizures of 'their persons, houses, papers, and effects.' This language surely cuts against the... holding below, and our cases unmistakably hold that the Amendment protects property as well as privacy... In holding that the Fourth Amendment's reach extends to property as such, we are mindful that the Amendment does not protect possessory interests in all kinds of property... This case, however, concerns a house, which the Amendment's language explicitly includes, as it does a person's effects...
We remain unconvinced [by the Seventh Circuit's interpretation] and see no justification for departing from our prior cases. In our view, the reason why an officer might enter a house or effectuate a seizure is wholly irrelevant to the threshold question whether the Amendment applies. What matters is the intrusion on the people's security from governmental interference. Therefore, the right against unreasonable seizures would be no less transgressed if the seizure of the house was undertaken to collect evidence, verify compliance with a housing regulation, effect an eviction by the police, or on a whim, for no reason at all...
Taking...[the Soldal's] allegations as true, this was no 'garden-variety' landlord-tenant or commercial dispute. The facts alleged suffice to constitute a 'seizure' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, for they plainly implicate the interests protected by that provision."
Held: The seizure and removal of the trailer home implicated petitioners' Fourth Amendment rights.  The case was reversed and remanded.
Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con

  • White, B.  Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)

The ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of reversal.  The United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case in a 9-0 vote, making it an apparent win for the ACLU.