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United States v. Rapanos

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20961
Nos. 95-1269, 115 F.3d 367/(6th Cir., 05/28/1997)

The court holds that under the open fields doctrine, state natural resource officials may enter a landowner's property to conduct a warrantless inspection of wetlands on the property without violating the landowner's Fourth Amendment rights. The court finds that the 175-acre property that the landowner sought to develop should be considered open fields. The property contains no buildings, is bordered by an interstate highway, and has been almost entirely denuded of trees and other vegetation. Further, the U.S. Supreme Court has defined open fields so broadly that, for constitutional purposes, even property that is neither open nor a field can be treated as an open field. The court then holds that the landowner's presence on the property at the time of the attempted inspection does not create a reasonable expectation of privacy. The court also rejects the landowner's assertion that the open fields doctrine does not apply, because the state officials contemplated undertaking full-scale seizure activity. There is no direct evidence that the officials intended to do anything but make visual inspections of the property and discuss with the landowner his need to obtain an environmental permit.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Jennifer J. Peregord, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
211 W. Fort St., Ste. 2300, Detroit MI 48234
(313) 234-9100

Counsel for Defendant
John L. Wildeboer
Skinner & Wildeboer
417 Washington St., Bay City MI 48707
(517) 893-5547

Before: LIVELY, NELSON, and MOORE, Circuit Judges.