California vs Patel: Supreme Court verdict favors Patel

Washington DC

The Supreme Court on Monday negated a Los Angeles ordinance requiring hotels to maintain a guest register subject to police inspection without a warrant.

At the core of the issue is whether a city can authorize police to routinely inspect hotel guest registries without individualized suspicion or judicial supervision.

In a verdict written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court held that denying hotel owners the opportunity to challenge police requests to view the register “creates an intolerable risk that searches authorized [by the ordinance] will exceed statutory limits, or be used as a pretext to harass hotel operators and their guests,” according to Courthouse News Service.

The lawsuit originated when the plaintiffs, hotel owners Naranjibhai Patel and Ramilaben Patel, challenged Section 41.49 of Los Angeles Municipal Code that required hotels to maintain detailed guest registries and provide them to police for inspection sans a warrant or any judicial review, calling the ordinance unconstitutional under the First and Fourth Amendments.

The Los Angeles Lodging Association and about 40 other hotel owners challenged the ordinance as violating the Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches,” reported the Wall Street Journal.

A district court had originally deemed the ordinance did not violate the Fourth Amendment, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed the decision before subsequently reversing the lower court’s judgment during a rehearing. The district court first deemed the ordinance did not violate the Fourth Amendment, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed the decision before subsequently reversing the lower court’s judgment during a rehearing.

Joining Sotomayor in this position were Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

Justice Antonin Scalia dissented, arguing that the Los Angeles ordinance “[limited] spot checks to the four corners of the register, and does not authorize police to enter any nonpublic area of the motel.

Scalia went on to say that motels are a particularly attractive site for criminal activity ranging from drug dealing and prostitution to human trafficking.

“Offering privacy and anonymity on the cheap, they have been employed as prisons for migrants smuggled across the border and held for ransom … and rendezvous sites where child sex workers meet their clients on threat of violence from their procurers,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, the Court today concludes that Los Angeles’s ordinance is ‘unreasonable’ inasmuch as it permits police to flip through a guest register to ensure it is being filled out without first providing an opportunity for the motel operator to seek judicial review. Because I believe that such a limited inspection of a guest register is eminently reasonable under the circumstances presented, I dissent,” he continued.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas joined Scalia’s dissent, while Justice Samuel Alito wrote a separate dissent, which Justice Thomas also joined.

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