At issue in this case is whether a city can authorize the police to routinely inspect hotel guest registries without any individualized suspicion or judicial supervision. Los Angeles Municipal Code § 41.49 implicates not only the business practices ofhotels, but also the privacy and First Amendment interests of hotel guests who frequently gather at hotels for political and religious purposes.
The Supreme Court long ago recognized that the freedom of individuals to associate with others of like mind is a core First Amendment right; the abridgment of this right occurs where the government seeks to identify people who participate in these activities. This ordinance, which grants local officials the authority to inspect guest registries of hotels in Los Angeles, directly implicates the freedom to participate in political, social, and religious associations that rely on hotels to facilitate their meetings and conferences. Given the significant First and Fourth Amendment interests at stake in the collection, retention, and inspection of these sensitive guest lists, the Court should affirm the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and find that LAMC § 41.49 is facially unconstitutional.
(1) Whether facial challenges to ordinances and statutes are permitted under the Fourth Amendment.
(2) Whether a hotel has an expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment in a hotel guest registry where the guest-supplied information is mandated by law and an ordinance authorizes the police to inspect the registry, and if so, whether the ordinance is facially unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment unless it expressly provides for pre-compliance judicial review before the police can inspect the registry.
This case involves a Fourth Amendment challenge, brought by a group of hotels in Los Angeles, to a city ordinance that requires hotels to maintain detailed guest registries and provide them for police inspection without a warrant or any judicial review. The City of Los Angeles has appealed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that the ordinance is facially unconstitutional, arguing in part that the ordnance can only be challenged as applied to a particular hotel. This procedural issue has far-reaching consequences because many recent laws authorize the police searches without judicial review. Fourth Amendment cases typically arise in in the form of “as applied” challenges in criminal and civil cases, but some laws impose sweeping data collection and retention requirements that raise significant Fourth Amendment issues.
Los Angeles Municipal Code § 41.49 requires hotel and motel operators to keep records with specified information about their guests. Plaintiffs, motel owners in Los Angeles, challenge a provision of § 41.49 authorizing warrantless, onsite inspections of those records by the LAPD. The code states the list “shall be made available to any officers of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection. Whenever possible, the inspection shall be conducted at a time and in a manner that minimizes any interference with the operation of the business.” The hotel owner sued the city on the ground that this code section was facially unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.
The trial court first held that the ordinance did not violate the Fourth Amendment, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld that decision. The Ninth Circuit subsequently granted the plaintiff’s request for rehearing en banc, and the en banc panel reversed the lower court ruling. The Court held that “[a] police officer’s non-consensual inspection of hotel guest records plainly constitutes a ‘search’ under either the property-based approach of Jones or the privacy-based approach of Katz.” Next, the Court found that while it ordinarily would balance the need to search against the invasion which the search entails, that balance has already been struck by the Supreme Court. The Ninth Circuit states that under Supreme Court precedent, “to be reasonable, an administrative record-inspection scheme need not require issuance of a search warrant, but it must at a minimum afford an opportunity for pre-compliance judicial review, an element that § 41.49 lacks,” and that the ordinance was therefore facially unconstitutional. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on October 20, 2014.
Hotel patrons have distinct privacy and free assembly interests in their personally identifiable information that is collected and disseminated to the police. Political groups, religious organizations, and social activists regularly gather at hotels in the United States to meet, to express opinions, and to organize. The collection of guest registry information is akin to the collection of membership lists for political and religious organizations, which this Court has found implicates significant First Amendment interests. NAACP v. Alabama ex rel Patterson, 357 U.S. 449 (1958). Given the significant First and Fourth Amendment interests at stake in the collection, retention, and inspection of these sensitive guest lists, the Court should affirm the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and find that LAMC § 41.49 is facially unconstitutional.
I. Guest Privacy is Critically Important for Hotels, and the Unnecessary Retention of Guest Data Increases Privacy and Data Security Risks
Privacy is of the utmost importance to hotels, which consider themselves “trustees and guardians of guest privacy since the earliest inns.” Mark G. Haley & Jungsun Kim, Principles of Privacy: Defining & Implementing Sound Privacy Practices in Hospitality (2d. ed. 2009). Section 41.49 unjustifiably exposes sensitive consumer data to the risk of data breaches and frustrates the ability of hotels to provide their guests proper data security. This ordinance breaks the bond of trust between hoteliers and their guests, and the routine retention of guests’ personal information creates significant risks of financial fraud and identity theft. Because this requirement exists only to enable routine police inspections of guest registries, it is imperative that the Court considers the interests of hotels and their guests in minimizing the unnecessary collection of guests’ personal information.
II. Routine Disclosure of Guest Registries to the Police Implicates Protected First Amendment Interests
The routine inspection of hotel guest registries chills activity protected by the First Amendment. Since this country’s founding, countless political, religious, and social activist organizations have gathered at hotels to organize, share ideas, and coordinate their constituents. That tradition continues to this day. In 2011, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) brought more than 5,000 members to Los Angeles for its annual convention, and those members were encouraged to stay at four hotels in the downtown Los Angeles area. More than 4,000 attended the 2014 Annual Conference of the National Council of La Raza at the Los Angeles Convention Center, with attendees staying at the JW Marriott and other downtown hotels. The Los Angeles ordinance impinges upon the freedom of those who participate in these First Amendment-protected activities.
III. The Court Has Found That Laws Inhibiting the Freedom of Political, Religious, and Social Organizations Must Survive Exacting Scrutiny
This Court has made clear that individuals “have a right to privacy of belief and association.” Doe v. Reed, 561 U.S. 186, 206 (2010). A law purporting to compel disclosure of associational information is subject to “exacting scrutiny.” Id. at 196. Hotel patrons in Los Angeles face the persistent specter of governmental inquiry into their associational ties. By mandating the collection of guest registry information and providing the police with the authority to inspect registries without warrant or restriction, LAMC § 41.49 provides the mechanism to identify participants in political, social, and religious conferences, and threatens to chill these associational freedoms.
IV. A Facial Challenge Is the Proper Vehicle to Evaluate This Ordinance Because It Implicates the Interests of Hotel Patrons
A facial challenge is appropriate in this case to consider the validity of the ordinance on its face because, as the City described, the purpose of the regulation is not to gather evidence but to “discourage” the use of hotels and motels by certain patrons. L.A., Cal., Ordinance 17796 (Oct. 6, 2006). This implicates the associational privacy of those guests engaged in First Amendment-protected activities who may wish to preserve their anonymity and may also deter participation in political gatherings where anonymity is an important or necessary element. As the Court explained in Doe v. Reed, a facial challenge considers not only the harm that would be suffered by the individual plaintiffs, but also the harm that would be suffered by others subject to the government regulation. See 561 U.S. 186, 200 (2010). For this reason, a facial challenge is particularly appropriate where a law “‘on its face impose[s] a severe burden,’— compelled disclosure of privacy in political association protected by the First Amendment.” Doe v. Reed, 561 U.S. at 230-31 (Thomas, J., dissenting).
United States Supreme Court
- Opinion of the Court
- Oral argument audio:
- Oral argument transcript (Mar. 3, 2015)
- Reply Brief of Petitioner (Feb. 20, 2015)
- Brief of Respondents Patels (Jan. 23, 2015)
- Amicus Briefs in Support of Respondents
- Brief of EPIC and Thirty-Six Legal Scholars and Technical Experts
- Brief of Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Brief of Profs. Adam Lamparello & Charles E. Maclean
- Brief of Gun Owners of America, Inc. et al.
- Brief of U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- Brief of Institute for Justice
- Brief of Asian American Hotel Owners Assoc.
- Brief of The Rutherford Institute
- Brief of The Cato Institute
- Brief of Google, Inc.
- Amicus Briefs in Support of Respondents
- Brief of Petitioner City of Los Angeles, California (Dec. 15, 2014)
- Amicus briefs in support of City of Los Angeles
- Amicus Briefs in Support of Neither Party
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, en banc
- Opinion, Patel v. City of Los Angeles, 738 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2013) (en banc).
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
- Opinion, Patel v. City of Los Angeles, 686 F.3d 1085 (9th Cir. 2012).
United States District Court for the Central District of California
- Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law After Court Trial, Sept. 5, 2008.
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- Conor Friedersdorf, A Motel-sized Victory for Privacy at the Supreme Court, The Atlantic, June 23, 2015
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- Dahlia Lithwick, The Supreme Court Rules That Police Can’t Simply Force Hotels To Turn Over Your Private Information, Slate, Jun. 22, 2015
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- Walter Olson, L.A. V. Patel: Law Must Allow Hotels To Contest Police Access To Registries, Overlawyered, Jun. 23, 2015
- Damon Root, SCOTUS Overturns L.A. Law Allowing Police To Conduct Warrantless Searches Of Hotel Guest Registries, Reason, Jun. 22, 2015
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- Alan Butler, Perspective: Court Must Keep Protecting Privacy, San Francisco Daily Journal (Mar. 3, 2015)
- Lawrence Hurley, U.S. Supreme Court Checks In On Hotel Records Privacy Case, Reuters, Mar. 3, 2015.
- Adam Liptak, Supreme Court May Be Open to Hotel Registry Checks, NY Times, Mar. 3, 2015.
- Ron Fein, Op-ed, Court Should Protect Privacy of Hotel Guests, Not Businesses, Sacramento Bee, Mar. 1, 2015
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- Los Angeles v. Patel and the Constitutional Structure of Judicial Review, Nicholas Quinn Rosencranz, The Volokh Conspiracy, Jan. 6, 2015
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- Privacy of hotel guest lists at issue, Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSblog, Oct. 20, 2014
- Fourth Amendment Facial Challenges and Access to Hotel Guest Lists, Orin Kerr, The Volokh Conspiracy, July 17, 2012