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United States v. Shaefer

decided: December 24, 1980.



Before Gibbons, Rosenn, Circuit Judges, and Hannum*fn*, District Judge.

Author: Gibbons


Michael Schaefer and Clairton Slag, Inc., appeal from judgments of sentence following their conviction of making false statements, representations or reports with respect to material delivered to a federally funded highway project.*fn1 Schaefer was also convicted of conspiracy.*fn2 They contend that the trial court erred in denying without an evidentiary hearing their motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a warrantless search and seizure by the Pennsylvania State Police on October 21, 1977. The trial court held that for the inspection and seizure which occurred on that date neither a warrant nor probable cause were required. We hold that this ruling was error, and remand for a suppression hearing.

The evidence at the trial showed that in the fall of 1977 the Pennsylvania State Police were investigating the possibility that Clairton Slag, Inc., a manufacturer of asphalt paving materials, was "short-weighing" asphalt it supplied for a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation road resurfacing job in Washington County, financed in part with federal funds. Schaefer is the President of Clairton Slag, Inc., and individually owns the trucks which deliver its products. The evidence does not suggest that the state police were investigating an isolated fleeting incident. Rather, they apparently suspected a course of conduct. On October 21, 1977 Corporal Stetor of the state police stopped and weighed five of Schaefer's trucks carrying asphalt to the job site. He obtained from the truck drivers the weigh bills they carried, which had been prepared by agents of Clairton Slag. These were photocopied and later returned. Three days later Corporal Stetor stopped and weighed the same five trucks, this time empty. Comparing the tare (empty) weights of the trucks with their gross (loaded) weights, he determined that the amount of asphalt in each truck was less than was indicated on the weigh bills seized on October 21. There is no evidence of record that Corporal Stetor had any information giving probable cause to believe on October 21 that the five trucks he stopped were short weighted. Nor is there any evidence of record suggesting that if he had such information obtaining a warrant was not practical. Nor is there any evidence of record suggesting that anyone having legal capacity to do so consented to Stetor's stopping the trucks and seizing the weigh bills for photocopying.

The government contends that what occurred on October 21, 1977 was not a search or seizure, that if it was neither defendant has standing to object to it, and that if they do have standing the warrantless search and seizure was nevertheless reasonable. We address these contentions separately.

A. There Was a Search and Seizure

The government's contention that stopping motor vehicles on the highway and subjecting them, or documents relating to their operation, to police inspection is not a search and seizure is foreclosed by the holdings in Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 99 S. Ct. 1391, 59 L. Ed. 2d 660 (1979) and United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 95 S. Ct. 2574, 45 L. Ed. 2d 607 (1975). In the former Justice White wrote for the court:

The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments are implicated in this case because stopping an automobile and detaining its occupants constitutes a "seizure" within the meaning of those amendments, even though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief.

440 U.S. at 653, 99 S. Ct. at 1396. In this case the trucks were stopped, the occupants detained, and documents seized. Delaware v. Prouse reiterated the standard announced in United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, that warrantless stops of motor vehicles are prohibited by the Fourth Amendment absent specific articulable facts which reasonably support an inference of a violation of the laws respecting use of the vehicle. The initial stop was a seizure within the meaning of that term in the Fourth Amendment, and of course all else flowed from the initial stop.

B. Defendants Have Standing to Object to it

In Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 133, 99 S. Ct. 421, 425, 58 L. Ed. 2d 387 (1978) the Court, rejecting a contention that a passenger in a car had a legitimate expectation of privacy in its glove compartment, observed that

"we are not at all sure that the determination of a motion to suppress is materially aided by labeling the inquiry identified in Jones (v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, (80 S. Ct. 725, 4 L. Ed. 2d 697) (1960)) as one of standing, rather than simply recognizing it as one involving the substantive question whether or not the proponent of the motion to suppress has had his own Fourth Amendment rights infringed by the search and seizure which he seeks to challenge."

The defendants in Rakas, Justice Rehnquist noted, "asserted neither a property nor a possessory interest in the automobile, nor an interest in the property seized." 439 U.S. at 148, 99 S. Ct. at 433. Here, in contrast, Schaefer owns the trucks which were seized, and Clairton Slag, Inc. had at the time of the seizure a possessory interest in them, exercised through its driver agents. Moreover Clairton had property and possessory interests in the weigh bills which were seized and copied. Neither Clairton's corporate status nor its commercial activity puts it outside the protection of the Fourth Amendment. Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385, 392, 40 S. Ct. 182, 183, 64 L. Ed. 319 (1920); ...

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