Supreme Court cases 2001-2002 term. (Legal Digest).
SEARCH AND SEIZURES ISSUES
United States v. Arvizu 534 U.S. 266 (2002)
In United States v. Arvizu, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an attempt by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to "describe and delimit" factors that can be used to determine "reasonable suspicion." The Supreme Court reaffirmed its earlier decisions requiring a determination of "reasonable suspicion" be based on a totality of circumstances.
Arvizu was observed by a border patrol agent traveling in a remote area of Arizona on an unpaved road frequently used by smugglers. He was traveling in a minivan with a woman and three children. The position of the children in the back seat suggested to the agent that their legs were resting on some cargo on the floor. When Arvizu observed the agent, he immediately slowed the vehicle and avoided eye contact. When the agent began following his vehicle, the children in the back seat began waving in an "abnormal pattern" as if they were following instructions.
A registration check indicated that Arvizu's vehicle was registered to an address in an area that was notorious for alien and drug smuggling. The border patrol agent decided to stop the vehicle after noting that the route taken by Arvizu was designed to avoid area checkpoints and that he was traveling at a time when border patrol agents were changing shifts. Following the stop, Arvizu consented to a search of his vehicle that resulted in the seizure of more that 128 pounds of marijuana.
Arvizu was charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. He moved to suppress the marijuana on the grounds that there was no reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle as required by the Fourth Amendment. After a hearing on the matter, the district court concluded that the agent's observations and inferences drawn from those observations did amount to reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle and denied Arvizu' s motion. On appeal, however, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reviewed each factor used to justify the stop in isolation from the others and concluded that a majority of them were susceptible to innocent explanation and, therefore, carried "little or no weight in the reasonable-suspicion calculus." Moreover, the court of appeals concluded that the few remaining factors were not sufficient to justify the stop.
On review, the Supreme Court repudiated the approach taken by the court of appeals and reaffirmed earlier case law requiring courts to use a "totality of circumstances" approach when determining the existence of "reasonable suspicion." Even though when viewed alone some factors may lend themselves to an innocent explanation, they still may be considered along with other more probative factors when reaching a determination of "reasonable suspicion." Applying the "totality of circumstances approach to the facts presented in Arvizu, the Court concluded that the stop was lawful.
United States v. Drayton 122 S. Ct. 2105 (2002)
Passengers on a Greyhound bus disembarked at a scheduled stop in Tallahassee, Florida, while the bus was refueled and cleaned. Shortly after the passengers reboarded the bus, three plainclothes police officers boarded as part of a drug and weapons interdiction program. One officer knelt on the driver's seat facing the passengers, a second stood at the back of the bus, while the third walked down the aisle speaking with individual passengers, asking about their travel plans and trying to match them with luggage in the overhead bins. To avoid blocking the aisle, the officer stood next to, or behind, each passenger with whom he spoke. No general announcement was made regarding why the officers were on the bus, and the passengers were never told that they could refuse to consent to any search of their luggage.
An officer approached Drayton and his traveling companion, introduced himself, and told them he was looking for drugs and weapons. The officer asked if the pair had any luggage. They responded that they shared a single bag located in the overhead bin. They gave the officer permission to search the bag, but no contraband was found. The officer then asked permission to frisk Drayton's traveling companion. He consented to the frisk, and drug packages were found strapped to his inner thighs. He was arrested and escorted off the bus. Drayton was then asked to consent to a pat-down search. Drayton also consented and similar packages were found in his possession. Drayton and his companion were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. They moved to suppress the cocaine, arguing that the consent to the pat-down searches was invalid.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida denied their motion to suppress, and they appealed. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The circuit court held that bus passengers do not feel free to disregard police officers' requests to search unless they are told that consent can be refused. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed.
The Court ruled that the officers did not seize the respondents when they entered the bus and began questioning passengers. The officers gave passengers no reason to believe that they were required to answer their questions. In addition, there was no application of force, no overwhelming show of force, and no brandishing of weapons or intimidating movements. The aisle was left free so that passengers could exit, and passengers were addressed one by one, in a polite, quiet voice. No commands were given. Nothing was said to suggest to reasonable individuals that they were barred from leaving the bus or otherwise terminating the encounter. The fact that the encounter occurred on a bus did not transform standard police questioning of citizens into an illegal seizure. Under these circumstances, reasonable people would believe that they were free to leave or to end the encounter. Consequently, no seizure occurred.
The Court again rejected the suggestion that police officers must inform citizens of their right to refuse when seeking permission to conduct a warrantless consent search. The Court found that the Fourth Amendment allows police officers to approach bus passengers at random, to ask questions, and to request their consent to searches for drugs and weapons, without advising them of their right to refuse to cooperate or to give consent.
United States v. Knights
534 U.S. 112 (2001)
Knights was convicted of a state drug offense and sentenced by a California court to probation. The terms of his probation included the condition that Knights submit to a search by police at anytime, with or without a search or arrest warrant, and with or without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Shortly after Knights was placed on probation, an arson fire occurred in equipment owned by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG) and Pacific Bell. Suspicion centered on Knights because PG previously had filed a theft of services complaint against Knights and terminated his electric service. After some investigation, detectives, who were aware of the consent to search condition in Knights' probation agreement, decided to search Knights' apartment. The parties agreed that at the time of the search, detectives had reasonable suspicion to believe that Knights had committed the arson. They sought no warrant authorizing the search, relying instead on the probation condition. A search of Knights' apartment revealed evidence of arson.
Knights was indicted for several federal crimes. He moved to suppress the evidence. The federal district court granted the motion. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The circuit court held that the search condition in Knights' probation order must be read as limited to searches for probationary purposes and must stop short of criminal investigation searches.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed. The Court never reached the issue of whether or not Knights had waived his Fourth Amendment rights (i.e., consented to the search) by agreeing to the search condition as part of his probation. Instead, the Court concluded that the search of this probationer's apartment, based upon a reasonable suspicion that he was engaged in criminal activity and authorized by a condition of probation, was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, even without a search warrant.
Ordinarily, for a search to be reasonable, officers must have a warrant, grounded upon probable cause, authorizing the search or be able to justify the warrantless search through one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. However, the Court has recognized special circumstances when police may search on less than probable cause and without a warrant. The Court decided that this case presented one of those special circumstances.
The Court said that the government has a strong interest in regulating the actions of probationers because their recidivism rate is so high and they have great incentive to conceal their criminal activity and destroy incriminating evidence. On the other hand, probationers have greatly reduced expectations of privacy because of the terms of their probations, especially where, as here, the probationer agrees to a search provision. Under these circumstances, the Court ruled that searches of probationers' apartments are reasonable and, therefore, constitutional when authorized by a condition of probation and officers have a reasonable suspicion to believe that they will find evidence of criminal activity. Under these conditions, no search warrant is required, and the search does not have to be limited to probationary purposes. It is important that officers strictly comply with the terms of the probation agreement. It is possible that the language of the probation order may limit the actions of officers to searchi ng only for probationary purposes.
EIGHTH AMENDMENT CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT
Hope v. Pelzer
122 S. Ct. 2508
The Supreme Court held that an inmate was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment when prison guards handcuffed him to a hitching post to punish him for disruptive behavior. The Court also held that the respondent guards were not entitled to qualified immunity because they were on notice that their conduct violated established law in light of binding precedent, department regulation, and a U.S. Department of Justice report informing the department of potential constitutional issues regarding such a use of the hitching post.
In 1995, Hope, then an Alabama prison inmate, was twice handcuffed to a hitching post for disruptive conduct. During a 2-hour period, he was offered drinking water and a bathroom break every 15 minutes. He was handcuffed above shoulder height, which caused the handcuffs to cut into his wrists when he moved, causing pain and discomfort. After a subsequent altercation with a guard, Hope was subdued, handcuffed, placed in leg irons, and transported back to the prison, where he was ordered to take off his shirt, thus exposing himself to the sun, and spent 7 hours at the hitching post. While there, he was given one or two water breaks but no bathroom breaks, and a guard taunted him about his thirst.
Hope filed a civil rights suit against three guards. The district court entered summary judgment for the guards. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, finding that while using the hitching post in that manner for punitive purposes violated the Eighth Amendment, the guards still were entitled to qualified immunity because the unconstitutional conduct was not clearly established. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the conduct was both unconstitutionally excessive and clearly established as being unconstitutional.
The Court previously held that cruel and unusual punishment is unnecessary and wanton pain that is totally without penological justification. In the prison context, the question is whether an official acted with deliberate indifference to the inmate's health or safety.
In this case, the Court found an obvious Eighth Amendment violation because there was clearly no threat from Hope. He was handcuffed to the hitching post, already subdued, handcuffed, placed in leg irons, and transported back to prison. Despite the clear lack of a threat from Hope, the guards knowingly subjected him to a substantial risk of physical harm, unnecessary pain, exposure to the sun, prolonged thirst and taunting, and no access to a bathroom--all unnecessary discomfort and humiliation.
The Court decided that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity. The Court found that these violations of the Eighth Amendment were clearly established because a reasonable officer would have known that using a hitching post as Hope alleged was unlawful. The Court noted that the obvious cruelty inherent in their conduct should have given the guards notice that their treatment of Hope was unconstitutional. The Court also identified previous binding circuit precedent, relevant Alabama Department of Corrections regulation, and prior U.S. Department of Justice admonitions that should have alerted the officers to the unlawfulness of these practices.
THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
Barnes, et al. v. Gorman 122 S. Ct. 2097 (2002)
Barnes v. Gorman presented the Supreme Court with the issue of whether punitive damages can be awarded in a private suit brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act.
In May 1992, Kansas City police arrested Jeffrey Gorman. Gorman is confined to a wheelchair and lacks voluntary control over his lower torso. His condition forces him to wear a catheter attached to a urine bag around his waist. The police put him in a van that was not equipped for a wheelchair. The officers removed him from the wheelchair and strapped him to a narrow bench in the rear of the van. During the ride, Gorman fell to the floor, rupturing his urine bag and injuring his shoulder and back. He subsequently suffered from serious medical problems, including a bladder infection, serious lower back pain, and uncontrollable spasms in his paralyzed areas.
Gorman brought a civil suit against, among others, the chief of police and the officer who drove the van. He alleged that he had been discriminated against on the basis of his disability. The trial jury found the defendants liable to Gorman and awarded him $1 million in compensatory damages and $1.2 million in punitive damages. The Supreme Court ruled that the punitive damages awarded to Gorman were inappropriate because the statutes relied on for his suit did not make them available. However, the Supreme Court did not disturb the $1 million award meant to compensate Gorman for his actual losses.
Law enforcement agencies should realize that they may be liable to disabled individuals when those agencies are not adequately prepared to handle disabled individuals. The ADA prohibits discrimination against the disabled by public entities, and the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against the disabled by recipients of federal funding. While punitive damages are not recoverable, the failure of a police agency to properly prepare to deal with the disabled can be very costly.
U.S. Airways, Inc. v. Barnett 122 5. Ct. 1516 (2002)
In this case, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of the impact of the reasonable accommodation requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on a seniority system. Barnett was a luggage handler with U.S. Airways who injured his back and was no longer able to lift luggage. He was temporarily reassigned to a mail room position. However, the mail room position was subject to the company's seniority system, meaning that Barnett would have to bid on the job to hold it permanently. Barnett learned that more senior employees intended to bid on the job, so he notified his employer that he desired to remain in the mail room as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. U.S. Airways refused the request, and Barnett lost his job. He sued.
The U.S. District Court in California directed a verdict for the employer, holding that the requested reasonable accommodation interfered with the company's established seniority system and, therefore, resulted in an undue hardship to the company and its nondisabled employees. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that whether or not the requested reasonable accommodation is an undue hardship must be decided on the facts of the particular case. The employer appealed to the Supreme Court.
The majority of the Supreme Court ruled, as a matter of law, that, in most cases, an employer does not have to give a preference to a disabled worker asking for a position as a reasonable accommodation over a nondisabled worker entitled to the position under the company's neutral seniority rules. However, the employee requesting the reasonable accommodation may present evidence of special circumstances that makes an exception to the seniority system reasonable in a particular case. The Court's majority recognized that there may be times that the seniority system should be altered to reasonably accommodate a disabled employee. For example, at times, employers retain a right to alter seniority systems unilaterally and, in fact, do so on occasion. In such cases, disabled employees may be able to show that employers must reasonably accommodate them by acting outside the seniority system as a reasonable accommodation. However, disabled employees have the burden of proving that, on the facts of the case, the accomm odation is reasonable despite the seniority systems.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams
534 U.S. 184 (2002)
This case demonstrates that courts continue to struggle with the meaning of the substantial limitation requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Ella Williams began working for the Toyota Motor Manufacturing company in Georgetown, Kentucky, in 1990. Her work included the use of pneumatic tools, eventually causing her pain in her hands, wrists, and arms. She sought medical treatment and was diagnosed with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and bilateral tendinitis. Her doctor placed her on permanent work restrictions. She was not to lift more that 20 pounds, frequently lift or carry more than 10 pounds, engage in constant repetitive flexion or extension of her wrists and elbows, and use vibratory or pneumatic tools. She returned to work and was assigned various modified duty positions for the next 2 years.
Toyota then changed her duties to include a task that required her to hold her hands and arms at shoulder height for several hours a day. Her pain returned and she was diagnosed with several additional medical problems that restricted her physical movement. She requested that Toyota accommodate her medical conditions by returning her to jobs in quality control. Ms. Williams claimed that Toyota refused her request for accommodation; Toyota said she began missing work on a regular basis. On her last day of work for Toyota, she was placed under a no-work-of-any-kind order by her doctor. Toyota then fired her, citing her poor attendance record.
Ms. Williams filed a law suit against Toyota, alleging, among other things, violations of the ADA for failure to accommodate her disability and firing her because of her disability. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky granted summary judgment for Toyota. The court reasoned that Ms. Williams was not disabled for purposes of the ADA when the company allegedly refused to accommodate her because, while she suffered from a physical impairment, it did not substantially limit any major life activity. The district court also denied her wrongful termination claim. Because she was under doctors' orders not to work at all when she was fired, she was not a "qualified person" under the ADA because she could not perform the essential functions of the job. Ms. Williams appealed.
The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed. It held that Ms. Williams was disabled at the time of her request for accommodation because her physical impairment prevented her from doing a class of manual activities affecting her ability to perform tasks at work. The Sixth Circuit ignored evidence that Ms. Williams could tend to her personal hygiene and do personal and household chores, saying it was not relevant to its determination that she was substantially limited in her ability to perform the range of manual tasks associated with an assembly line job. The circuit court agreed, however, that she was not wrongfully terminated for the reason set out by the district court.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit and concluded that Ms. Williams was not disabled as defined by the ADA. The Supreme Court agreed with both lower courts that Ms. Williams suffered from a physical impairment. However, as the Court noted, to qualify for ADA protection, her impairment must limit a major life activity and that limitation must be substantial. The Court agreed that performing manual tasks is a major life activity. The Court disagreed that Ms. Williams' impairment substantially limited her in the major life activity of performing manual tasks.
The Court held that to be substantially limited in the major life activity of performing manual tasks, an individual must have an impairment that "prevents or severely restricts the individual from doing activities that are of central importance to most peoples' daily lives." In addition, the Court emphasized that a mere medical diagnosis of an impairment is not sufficient to claim ADA protection. Claimants must offer evidence that the impairment impacts them personally in a substantial way, meaning each claim must be decided on a case-by-case basis because the impact of impairments varies from person to person.
This case is limited to analysis of only one major life activity-- performing manual tasks. However, it is important for several reasons. The Court spoke with a single voice; it was a unanimous opinion. The Court's opinion clearly demonstrated its intention and interpreted the language of the ADA in a way to ensure that its protections extend only to those whose impairments truly substantially limit a major life activity. The ADA means what it says. Limitations upon life activities must be "substantial," meaning that they must relate to or proceed from "the essence of a thing." Life activities impacted must be "major," meaning that they must be "of central importance to daily life."
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Waffle House, Inc.
534 U.S. 279 (2002)
In 1947, Congress passed the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Generally, the FAA states that binding arbitration agreements in contracts, including employment contracts, are valid, irrevocable, and enforceable. The act expresses a preference for arbitration agreements. It provides for stays of federal proceedings when they involve questions referable to arbitration and for orders compelling arbitration when one party violates the arbitration agreement.
In this case, the Supreme Court faced the question of whether a binding arbitration agreement in an employment contract limits remedies that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may pursue in an enforcement action against an employer for alleged violations of the ADA. The Court decided it does not.
Eric Baker applied for a job as a grill operator in a Waffle House restaurant. He, like all prospective Waffle House employees, was required to sign an arbitration agreement requiring that any employment disputes be settled by binding arbitration. A short time after being hired, he suffered a seizure at the grill. He was fired soon after that. He never sought to arbitrate the termination, but he did file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging that his termination violated the ADA.
The EEOC investigated and unsuccessfully tried to conciliate the matter with Waffle House. The EEOC then filed an enforcement action against Waffle House, alleging that Baker's firing was a violation of the ADA, intentional, and done with malice or a reckless disregard for Baker's federally protected rights. The complaint sought injunctive relief to end Waffle House's allegedly unlawful employment practices. It also sought back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages for Baker, and an award of punitive damages. Baker himself was not a party to the EEOC enforcement action. Waffle House responded with a request under the FAA that the district court stay the EEOC suit and order Baker to arbitrate the matter as required by the contract or dismiss the action altogether.
The district court declined Waffle House's request, finding that the arbitration agreement was not a part of the employment contract. The case was appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The court of appeals found that Baker's employment contract did include a valid, enforceable arbitration agreement. The court decided that the arbitration agreement did not bar the EEOC's enforcement action because the commission was not a party to the contract and has independent statutory to bring an enforcement action. However, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the arbitration agreement did prevent the EEOC from seeking victim-specific relief (back pay, reinstatement, and compensatory and punitive damages) because the FAA's expressed goal is to favor arbitration agreements and required the court to credit the agreement in this case. Consequently, the court ruled that because Baker ignored the arbitration agreement, the EEOC's only remedy was injunctive relief.
The Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit's ruling, holding that the presence of the arbitration agreement in the employment contract, and Baker's choice to ignore it, in no way limited the range of relief the EEOC could seek. The Court noted that the EEOC was not a party to any arbitration agreement. The EEOC has statutory authority to pursue these various remedies, and nothing in the FAA restricts this public agency's authority.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines many employment practices that are discriminatory and, therefore, violations of the act. Among those discriminatory acts is the use of qualification standards that tend to screen out those with disabilities. However, the act provides an affirmative defense for employers who use such qualifications. It permits employers to use standards that screen out those with disabilities if they are shown to be job related and consistent with business necessity. The same section provides that qualification standards may include a requirement that individuals not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others in the workplace if the individual cannot perform the job safely with reasonable accommodation. Consequently, it is lawful for employers to refuse to hire people with disabilities if their disabilities cannot be accommodated and they pose a direct threat to other workers.
The legislation says nothing about employers' refusals to hire persons with disabilities because their performance of the jobs would pose a danger to their own health and safety. However, the EEOC promulgated a regulation that permitted employers to refuse to hire for just that reason. This case challenged that EEOC regulation.
Mario Echazabal worked for an independent contractor at a Chevron Oil refinery. Twice he applied for jobs with Chevron, and twice Chevron offered him a job conditioned upon the results of medical tests. Both medical tests showed liver abnormality or damage caused by Hepatitis C. Both of Chevron's conditional employment offers were withdrawn because company doctors said that his condition would be aggravated by exposure to toxic chemicals at the refinery. After the second exam, Chevron asked Echazabal's employer to reassign him away from harmful chemicals at the plant or to remove him from the refinery altogether. The contractor laid him off. Echazabal sued Chevron, claiming that Chevron violated the ADA by refusing to hire him or let him continue working at the plant because of his liver disorder, a disability.
In federal district court, Chevron defended itself by arguing that hiring Echazabal would pose a direct threat to his own health, citing the EEOC regulation. The district court granted summary judgment for Chevron, saying it acted reasonably by relying on its doctors' medical advice. The case was appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The circuit court decided that the EEOC regulation, recognizing the threat-to-self defense, was beyond the EEOC's rule-making power under the ADA and reversed the district court's decision in favor of Chevron. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
A unanimous Supreme Court disagreed with the Ninth Circuit and upheld the EEOC regulation. The Court reviewed the language and history of the ADA and decided that Congress had not definitively spoken on the issue of threats to workers' own health, making it reasonable for the EEOC to do so. The Court noted that the regulation is reasonable because employers reasonably must fear running afoul of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and lawsuits if they hire persons who may be put at risk by performing their jobs. In addition, the Court disagreed with Echazabal's argument that the regulation perpetuates the workplace paternalism that the ADA was meant to eliminate. By demanding particularized proof of the dangers that disabled employees would likely face in the workplace, the regulation eliminates the possibility that employers will make decisions based upon stereotypes.
Instructors in the Legal Instruction Unit at the FBI Academy prepared this article.
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|Publication:||The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2002|
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