Post details: 4th Amendment Victory For Commercial Truckers In Federal Court

2011-05-19

Permalink 00:58:58, Categories: News, Checkpoints, 1269 words   English (EU)

4th Amendment Victory For Commercial Truckers In Federal Court

Several months ago, I was forwarded information regarding a 4th amendment lawsuit relating to commercial trucking that's pertinent to many of the issues I discuss on this blog. What I found especially interesting about the case was that despite commercial trucking being a heavily regulated industry where there's a much lower expectation of privacy along with 4th & 5th amendment protections (according to the courts anyway), a federal judge nonetheless ruled in favor of a commercial truck driver subjected to a standardless inspection regime during a mandatory roadside weigh station stop.

[More:]

The case at issue involved a checkpoint operation by the Minnesota State Patrol in May of 2008. Inspectors for the patrol were conducting a fishing expedition for impaired drivers and had prepared a "survey" for truck drivers stopped at the weigh station. While administering the "survey", inspectors not only failed to inform drivers what its purpose was but actively mislead them in the process. Additionally, the "survey" was comprised of intrusive questions having little to do with determining a driver's current impairment level. Questions such as:

  • What is your neck size?
  • Do you take prescription drugs?
  • Do you have Playboy magazines in the cab?
  • How many times do you go to the bathroom at night?

After "voluntarily" filling out one of the "surveys", Stephen House, the driver who eventually brought suit against the Minnesota State Patrol in conjunction with the Independent Driver Association, was determined by the inspectors to be "impaired" and forced off the road for a period of 12 hours based on his answers to "survey" questions.

House brought suit against the Minnesota State Patrol and on January 28, 2011, the case was decided in the United States District Court in the District of Minnesota. Plaintiff's Stephen House and the Independent Driver Association were victorious. In the decision, the district court ruled that inspectors with the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section of the Minnesota State Patrol overstepped their authority and violated the plaintiff's right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure when they impermissibly expanded the scope of their questioning and detention during the inspection absent reasonable suspicion to believe the driver was in violation of any regulations they were authorized to enforce.

The court also ruled inspectors were purposefully misleading regarding the purpose of the questions, rules in place governing inspections at the time were inadequate to limit their lawful discretion, truck drivers had no notice of the purpose of the detention, the scope of the questions or their purpose, and there were inadequate remedies in place to administratively challenge the results of the inspection after the fact.

If you've been following my blog for any length of time, a lot of the specifics addressed by the court should sound familiar because in one form or another I've brought them up in relation to the checkpoints I cover on several occasions. Indeed, several of the issues the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff for are front and center in both the way the Border Patrol conducts their internal "immigration" checkpoints along public highways inside the country and in my own ongoing checkpoint lawsuit.

Without belabouring the point further, I've included several pertinent quotes from the court case below. Note - since the events resulting in the lawsuit, guidelines have finally been adopted by the Minnesota State Patrol and those guidelines make it clear drivers ARE NOT REQUIRED to answer questions from inspectors. Does anyone really think that if a commercial truck driver can't be required to answer questions from safety inspectors in a highly regulated industry while being detained at a weigh station that Border Patrol agents can compel individuals to answer questions while seizing domestic traffic absent individualized suspicion at internal immigration checkpoints?:

Excerpt from Court Ruling in Civil No. 09-1116

The Minnesota State Patrol issued General Order 10-25-002 (Determination of Commercial Vehicle Impairment Due to Illness and/or Fatigue and Related Enforcement) on May 5, 2010, and updated the Order on August 24, 2010. The General Order makes several changes to clarify, in part, the limitations and restrictions of CVIs and Troopers who conduct NAST inspections when impairment due to fatigue, illness, or
other causes is at issue. First, during a NAST inspection, Troopers and CVIs are to observe drivers for signs of impairment due to illness, fatigue, or other cause, but they cannot expand the driver portion of the inspection to determine impairment unless they have a reasonable articulable suspicion that the driver may be impaired. Second, the questions used to determine impairment must be reasonably related to whether the driver can safely operate the vehicle at the time. Untruthful or misleading statements to the driver are no longer permitted. Drivers are to be told the purpose of the questions if they inquire, and they are not required to answer questions....Notably, none of these procedures, limitations, or restrictions were in place on May 10, 2008.

Excerpt from Court Ruling in Civil No. 09-1116:

“...2. Although Defendants were authorized to temporarily detain House on May 10, 2008, for a routine Level III Inspection, Defendants were not entitled to conduct the scope of investigation and questioning that they did. In doing so, Defendants continued the detention of House beyond what was reasonably related to the circumstances that justified House’s detention at the beginning of the weigh station stop. Defendants did not have a reasonable articulable suspicion that House was impaired, and the continued duration of the detention as well as the broad scope of questions by the Defendants constituted a seizure in violation of House’s Fourth Amendment right against an unreasonable seizure

3. The regulatory program in place on May 10, 2008, did not allow House to be advised of the purpose for the detention, the purpose for the questioning, or the broad scope of the questioning.

4. The regulatory program in place on May 10, 2008, did not properly and adequately limit the inspecting officers’ discretion.

5. The continued detention of House and the scope of the inquiry of House on May 10, 2008, was beyond the scope of a proper Level III Inspection, which therefore violated House’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable seizure.

6. Consequently, the decision to issue the OOS Order was arbitrary and not based upon a reasonable particularized suspicion, as is now required by General Orders of the Minnesota State Patrol that did not exist on May 10, 2008.

7. Plaintiffs are entitled to prospective injunctive and declaratory relief based upon the Court’s conclusion that House’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable seizure was violated on May 10, 2008.

8. Plaintiffs, as prevailing parties with respect to Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint, are entitled to apply for an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988

. . . .

Consequently, in the absence of a reasonable articulable suspicion, any limitations placed on the scope of the inquiry or inspection of House, or any notice of the procedures in place to evaluate whether drivers are too fatigued, ill, or impaired to drive safely, the duration of the detention and the scope of the inquiry constituted an unreasonable seizure in violation of House’s Fourth Amendment rights

. . . .

House was not provided with a meaningful post-deprivation review of his OOS Order after the May 10, 2008 incident. Even though the DataQ process was in place at that time, there was no procedure in place to inform a driver in House’s situation of the review process. The Court has concluded that House did not suffer any damage, but the Court has ordered the expungement of his record

. . . .

The Court has directed the parties to contact Magistrate Judge Leo I. Brisbois to establish a date for a settlement-mediation conference to discuss prospective injunctive and declaratory relief.”

Comments:

Comment from: Doug [Visitor]
Interesting. It appears to me that Mr. House (the trucker) was seized and illegally arrested without Probable Cause. He was arrested because he was held for an hour, and they held his Driver's License, which prevented him from leaving. This would appear to me to constitute an arrest. U.S. District Judge Donovan W. Frank dismissed all of Mr. House's claims against the government with prejudice, even as he ruled that the government had acted illegally. Evidently the court does not care if the government is not deterred from doing this again, or from doing it routinely. Your only recourse is to fight each and every occurrence at great expense and effort, to get what was illegally and traitorously done to you in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Evidently every instance of abuse at the hands of evil government officials must be litigated every time, and there is no penalty to the government officials who act illegally. Claims against them are dismissed with prejudice, whether they violated the U.S. Bill of Rights, or not.
These are the hallmarks of an illegal government. America is now a Police State. Get accustomed to it - it's going to get worse.
Permalink 2011-05-21 @ 14:32
Comment from: Checkpoint USA [Member]
Can't say I disagree with your general analysis Doug and from that perspective, the case was a loss.

The judge most certainly should not have dismissed the other claims in the lawsuit. My guess is his reasoning was that the time spent at the weigh station would have been equivalent to the time spent if the inspection had been conducted within "legal" boundaries & since regular inspections are a part of the commercial trucking industry anyway, there was little in the way of quantifiable damages. Further, since his wife drove after the "inspection" was complete, the judge undoubtedly rationalized he didn't suffer any damages from the 12 hours he was ordered not to drive.

A lot of these rulings dance elegantly (or not so) around the 800 lb guerrilla in the room. Having spent so much time on the issue myself, I start to lose site of it occasionally as well. Nonetheless, the ruling did re-affirm several important issues I've raised repeatedly over the years - that even when working within the King's system, the King's men must have well developed guidelines in place when conducting checkpoint operations, those guidelines must limit onscene discretion, the King's men must limit the scope of their activities accordingly and individuals being so seized have little more obligation to the King's men then to stop.

While I'd like nothing better than to see suspicionless checkpoint regimes go the way of the dodo bird, that will only happen when a sufficiently large mass of pissed off people force it to happen one way or the other. In order for those circumstances to exist however, more people need to document the hypocrisy in the system and the unaccountability of those administering it while personally suffering its indignities at their hands.

With the ever-increasing rate that suspicionless seizures of individuals are being authorized across the spectrum, those conditions may be met a lot sooner than many of us realize. We can only hope....
Permalink 2011-05-21 @ 15:11
Comment from: Doug [Visitor]
I appreciate your optimistic attitude. I certainly hope you are correct.
Permalink 2011-05-23 @ 21:50
Comment from: checkpoint charlie [Visitor]
Gerry Spence, the famous trial lawyer:
“We are told that our judges, charged with constitutional obligations, insure equal justice for all. That, too, is a myth. The function of the law is not to provide justice or to preserve freedom. The function of the law is to keep those who hold power, in power.” –From Freedom to Slavery, p. 109
Permalink 2011-05-25 @ 20:49
Comment from: mike [Visitor]
Is it legal for the highway patrol, to contact my employer, and ask him questions about the drivers, who will be working for them during the harvest season? And,can he faced legal repercussions if he refuses to divulge that information. And do I have the same rights,driving a commercial vehicle, as a person driving a car?
Permalink 2011-07-14 @ 22:05
Comment from: Starved Justice [Visitor]
For too long, now, the executive branch of government has expanded while the legislative branch has crippled the judicial branch. No longer are there three equal branches to act as restraints on each other. With too few courts, judges, and time to access the system, it begins to look like other "entitlement programs" targeted for the dust bin by Tea Partiers, Dominionists, and others who think their money will buy them the freedom to make more money as it deprives the rest of us our Constitutional rights. Forgive my rant, but that is, IMHO, part of the greater picture. Or, as one friend puts it: "... and Liberty and Justice for all... who can afford it!"
Permalink 2011-11-27 @ 13:51

Comments are closed for this post.

Roadblock Revelations

Welcome to Checkpoint USA's blog. Here you'll find general information and discussions regarding growing threats to our right to privacy & travel.

While I refer to court cases along with state and federal law frequently in this blog, nothing written here should be construed as legal advice. I am not an attorney. Rather, I'm someone concerned about the growing disregard for individual rights present at all levels of government.

My conclusions are my own based upon personal experience and research. The law is made purposely complex however and varies significantly from place to place and circumstance to circumstance.

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