DONOVAN V. DEWEY, 452 U. S. 594 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Donovan v. Dewey, 452 U.S. 594 (1981)

Donovan v. Dewey

No. 80-901

Argued April 28, 1981

Decided June 17, 1981

452 U.S. 594


Section 103(a) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 requires federal mine inspectors to inspect underground mines at least four times a year and surface mines at least twice a year to ensure compliance with health and safety standards, and to make followup inspections to determine whether previously discovered violations have been corrected. The section also grants inspectors the right of entry to any coal or other mine and provides that no advance notice of an inspection need be given. If a mine operator refuses to allow a warrantless inspection under § 103(a), the Secretary of Labor is authorized to bring a civil action for injunctive or other relief. When a federal inspector attempted a followup inspection of appellee company's stone quarries, appellee officer of the company refused to allow the inspection to continue. Subsequently, the Secretary of Labor filed suit in Federal District Court seeking to enjoin the company from refusing to permit warrantless searches of its facility. The District Court granted summary judgment for appellees on the ground that the Fourth Amendment prohibited the warrantless searches authorized by § 103(a).

Held: The warrantless inspections required by § 103(a) do not violate the Fourth Amendment, but instead are reasonable within the meaning of that Amendment. Pp. 452 U. S. 598-606.

(a) Unlike searches of private homes, which generally must be conducted pursuant to a warrant in order to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, legislative schemes authorizing warrantless administrative searches of commercial property do not necessarily violate that Amendment. A warrant may not be constitutionally required when Congress has reasonably determined that warrantless searches are necessary to further a regulatory scheme, and the federal regulatory presence is sufficiently comprehensive and defined that the owner of commercial property cannot help but be aware that his property will be subject to periodic inspections undertaken for specific purposes. Pp. 452 U. S. 598-602.

(b) Here, in view of the substantial federal interest in improving the health and safety conditions in mines, and of Congress' awareness that the mining industry is among the most hazardous and that this industry's poor health and safety record has significant deleterious effects on

Page 452 U. S. 595

interstate commerce, Congress could reasonably determine that a system of warrantless inspections was necessary "if the law is to be properly enforced and inspection made effective." United States v. Biswell, 406 U. S. 311, 406 U. S. 316. Pp. 452 U. S. 602-603.

(c) Moreover, the statute's inspection program, in terms of the certainty and regularity of its application, provides a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant. Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., 436 U. S. 307, distinguished. Pp. 452 U. S. 603-604.

(d) The fact that stone quarries, as opposed to underground mines, do not have a long tradition of Government regulation does not, in itself, mean that the warrantless inspection in question violated the Fourth Amendment. It is the pervasiveness and regularity of federal regulation that ultimately determines whether a warrant is necessary to render an inspection program reasonable under that Amendment. If the length of regulation were the only criterion, absurd results would occur which the Fourth Amendment's concept of reasonableness would not tolerate. Pp. 452 U. S. 604-606.

493 F.Supp. 963, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 452 U. S. 606. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 452 U. S. 608. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 452 U. S. 609.

Page 452 U. S. 596

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