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Los Angeles v. Patel

Justia Summary

The city of Los Angeles requires hotel operators to record and keep specific information about their guests on the premises for a 90-day period, “available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection . . . at a time and in a manner that minimizes any interference with the operation of the business.” Violation is a criminal misdemeanor. In a facial challenge to the ordinance on Fourth Amendment grounds, the district court upheld the ordinance, finding that hotel operators lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in their records. The Ninth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed. Fourth Amendment facial challenges to statutes are not categorically barred nor especially disfavored. When addressing a facial challenge to a statute authorizing warrantless searches, the proper focus is on searches that the law actually authorizes and not those that could proceed irrespective of the statute, e.g., where exigent circumstances, a warrant, or consent to search exist. To be constitutional, the subject of an administrative search must have an opportunity for precompliance review before a neutral decision-maker. Assuming the administrative search exception applies, the ordinance is facially invalid because it fails to afford hotel operators any opportunity for such review. This opportunity can be provided without imposing onerous burdens on law enforcement. The Court did not question the requirement that hotel operators keep records nor allowing police access to those records where a hotel operator consents, where the officer has a proper administrative warrant, or where some other exception to the warrant requirement applies. Nothing inherent in the operation of hotels poses a clear and significant risk to the public welfare to justify classifying the industry as closely regulated; even if hotels were closely regulated, the ordinance would fail to satisfy the additional criteria for searches of closely regulated industries.

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