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United States v. V-1 Oil Co.

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 20058
Nos. No. 94-36178, 63 F.3d 909/41 ERC 1537/(9th Cir., 08/24/1995)

The court holds that warrantless, unannounced inspections by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA) do not violate a liquefied gas propane retailer's Fourth Amendment rights. The court first holds that the district court properly concluded that the retailer is a closely regulated industry because it transports and sells hazardous materials. The court holds that the government has a substantial interest in regulating the transportation and temporary storage of hazardous materials to protect life and property. The court next holds that unannounced inspections reasonably ensure that the HMTA is satisfactorily enforced, because advance notice of inspections could permit the retailer to temporarily correct violations and frustrate enforcement efforts. The court holds that the Act, as applied to the retailer, provides an adequate substitute for a warrant. The retailer is subject to inspections only because of its extensive activities relating to the transportation of propane gas. Moreover, the Act limits the discretion of inspecting officers to business premises and records that relate to the transportation of hazardous materials. Finally, the inspections may be conducted only at reasonable times and in a reasonable manner, according to the FRA's enforcement manual. The court next holds that the district court's permanent injunction is not ambiguous and is not an abuse of discretion. The injunction requires the retailer to allow warrantless administrative searches for the purpose of enforcing the HMTA and its implementing regulations, thus allowing enforcement of an Act that meets constitutional muster. The court notes that the retailer has legal remedies available if the agency engages in improper searches.

Counsel for Plaintiff
John F. Daly
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Counsel for Defendant
Peter Stirba
Stirba & Hathaway
215 S. State St., Ste. 1150, Salt Lake City UT 84111
(801) 364-8300

Before Farris, Noonan, and Hawkins, JJ.