New York v. Burger
Decided on June 19, 1987; 482 US 691


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

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

B. Legal Question Presented: 

Did the warrantless search of an automobile junkyard, conducted pursuant to a statute authorizing such a search, fall within the exception to the warrant requirement for administrative inspections of pervasively regulated industries?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Respondent owned a junkyard in Brooklyn, NY. His business consisted of the dismantling of automobiles and the selling of their parts. On November 17, 1982, plainclothes officers from the Auto Crimes Division of the New York City Police Department, entered respondent's junkyard to conduct an inspection pursuant to a New York statute.  Upon entering the junkyard, the officers asked to see Burger's license and his “police book” (the record of the automobiles and automobile parts in his possession). Burger replied that he had neither a license nor a police book. The officers then announced their intention to conduct an inspection, as authorized by the New York statute. Burger did not object. In accordance with their practice, the officers copied down the Vehicle Identification Numbers of several vehicles and parts of vehicles that were in the junkyard. After checking these numbers against a police computer, the officers determined that respondent was in possession of stolen vehicles and parts.

Respondent was arrested and charged with possession of stolen property and unregistered operation as a vehicle dismantler.  He moved in state court to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the inspection, primarily on the ground that the administrative inspection statute was unconstitutional. The court denied the motion, and the Appellate Division affirmed. The New York Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the statute violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Stephen R. Mahler argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was Perry S. Reich. Elizabeth Holtzman argued the cause for petitioner. With her on the briefs were Barbara D. Underwood and Leonard Joblove.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Richard Emery, Gerard E. Lynch, and Alvin J. Bronstein filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, et al., as amicus curiae urging affirmance. No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of Petitioner.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

“While the owner or operator of commercial business has an expectation of privacy, the expectation of privacy in a ‘closely regulated’ industry is reduced. Where the privacy interests of the owner are weakened and the government interests in regulating particular businesses are concomitantly heightened, a warrantless inspection of commercial premises may well be reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment...

Nevertheless, a warrantless inspection will be deemed to be reasonable only so long as (1) a substantial government interest exists, (2) warrantless inspections are necessary to further the regulatory scheme, and (3) the statute authorizing the warrantless inspection serves as a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant...

Searches made pursuant to the New York statute... clearly fall within this established exception to the warrant requirement for administrative inspections in 'closely regulated' businesses. [T]he nature of the regulatory statute reveals that the operation of a junkyard, part of which is devoted to vehicle dismantling, is a 'closely regulated' business in the State of New York...

The New York regulatory scheme satisfies the three criteria necessary to make reasonable warrantless inspections. First, the State has a substantial interest in regulating the vehicle-dismantling and automobile-junkyard industry because motor vehicle theft has increased in the State and because the problem of theft is associated with this industry.  Second, regulation of the vehicle-dismantling industry reasonably serves the State's substantial interest in eradicating automobile theft. It is well established that the theft problem can be addressed effectively by controlling the receiver of, or market in, stolen property.  Third, [New York’s statute] provides a ‘constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant.’ The statute informs the operator of a vehicle dismantling business that inspections will be made on a regular basis. Thus, the vehicle dismantler knows that the inspections to which he is subject do not constitute discretionary acts by a government official but are conducted pursuant to statute...”
Justice Vote: 3 Pro vs. 6 Con

  • Blackmun, H. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined the majority)
  • White, B. Con (Joined the majority)
  • Powell, L. Con (Joined the majority)
  • Stevens, J. Con (Joined the majority)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined the majority)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Joined Brennan’s dissent)
  • O’Connor, S. Pro (Joined all but Part III of Brennan’s dissent)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed a brief as amicus curiae urging affirmance. The United States Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling in a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.