Fourth Department Upholds Search Conducted Pursuant to the Navigation Law
July 22, 2007
Matter of Murtaugh v New York State Dept. of Envtl. Conservation, 2007 NY Slip Op 06085, is an interesting decision that appears at first glance to be a boring, dry decision, but ends on a high note with the discussion of lofty constitutional issues.
At issue was the constitutionality of sections of the Navigation Law that permitted the DEC to enter the premises of the petitioner's motor vehicle dismantling business in order to investigate the alleged release of toxic substances.
The Court concluded that the statutory framework did not violate the petitioner's search and seizure rights:
Although constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures apply to administrative inspections of private commercial property, those engaged in business in industries subject to a complex and pervasive pattern of regular and close supervision and inspection have a substantially diminished expectation of privacy in such business affairs, and that diminished "privacy interest may, in certain circumstances, be adequately protected by regulatory schemes authorizing warrantless inspections" (Donovan v Dewey, 452 US 594, 599; see generally Marshall v Barlow's, Inc., 436 US 307, 313; People v Quackenbush, 88 NY2d 534, 541-542). The dismantling of vehicles is a pervasively regulated industry (see People v Cusumano, 108 AD2d 752, 753). Under the statutory scheme, respondents' entry is in furtherance of the substantial governmental interest in environmental protection and remediation, rather than in furtherance of criminal investigation and prosecution (cf. People v Scott, 79 NY2d 474, 498-499; People v Burger, 67 NY2d 338, 344). Moreover, the statute furnishes " a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant' " by informing the property owner of the prospect of the inspection and limiting the discretion of the inspecting officers (Quackenbush, 88 NY2d at 542)...We thus conclude that the Navigation Law provisions do not violate the proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures contained in the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution or article I, § 12 of the New York State Constitution
I'm not particularly surprised by this holding. One of the larger projects I've been working on as of late is updating a search and seizure treatise and this holding comports with recent federal court decisions regarding administrative searches. While I haven't researched this particular issue under New York law and our fine state has been known to expand constitutional rights under our State Constitution, nevertheless, I'd be surprised if this holding was overturned on appeal.
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