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United States v. Potter

Citation: 30 ELR 20228
No. No. 99-280-A, 71 F. Supp. 2d 543/49 ERC 1850/(E.D. Va., 11/24/1999)

The court holds that government agents did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they searched a trailer rented by an asbestos removal contractor who arranged for the disposal of asbestos from three elementary schools. The court first holds that the contractor did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the trailer at the time it was searched. The contractor failed to pay rent to the owner of the lot where the trailer was being kept for one year, and he failed to monitor the trailer. Moreover, the contractor knew that the lot owner was aware that hazardous substances were being stored in the trailer. Thus, the contractor created a situation in which a reasonable person would become concerned about the trailer and contact the appropriate authorities. By failing to act with greater care toward the trailer and its contents, the government searches did not infringe on any of the personal and societal values protected by the Fourth Amendment. The court next holds that the government agents had the apparent authority to conduct the searches. There is nothing in the record to show that the agents should have disbelieved the lot owner's assertions that the trailer had been abandoned by the contractor. In addition, on subsequent searches, the government acted on the express consent of the owner of the trailer, who, like the lot owner, was unable to contact the contractor because the contractor's numbers had been disconnected. Consequently, the government searches were reasonable and valid under the Fourth Amendment.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Thomas H. McQuillan
U.S. Attorney's Office
2100 Jamieson Ave., Alexandria VA 22314
(703) 299-3700

Counsel for Defendant
Cary S. Greenberg
Law Offices of Cary S. Greenberg
10565 Leesburg Pike, Fairfax VA 22030
(703) 359-5669