Random searches at work
Morris v NY-NJ Port Authority, 290 AD2d 22
Robert Morris and the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association [PBA] sued the Port Authority in an effort to obtain a judicial declaration that random searches of the Port Authority police officers’ lockers were (1) unconstitutional and (2) a breach of a Memorandum of Agreement [MOA] between the PBA and the Authority.
The lockers in question are owned by the Authority and were being used by Authority police officers. A search on October 13, 1999 found radios belong to the Authority in the lockers of two officers in violation of its directive to pass the radios on to their shift replacements. The officers were disciplined for violating the directive.
The court dismissed the complaint citing the Appellate Division’s ruling in Moore v Constantine, 191 AD2d 769. Moore challenged his termination as a result of the search of his personal locker and “the seizure of evidence ... which was admitted in evidence” at a disciplinary hearing. The court said that the seizure of evidence from Moore’s locker did not violate his rights under the 4th Amendment.
According to the decision, in order to be entitled to assert a violation of the 4th Amendment, the individual must establish that he or she possessed a reasonable expectation of privacy as to the searched premises.
The right to privacy in the workplace asserted Moore’s situation, said the court, must bend to the superior governmental-societal interest of efficiency in the State Police. All public employees, especially police officers, have a diminished expectation of privacy in the work place.
As the U.S. Supreme Court said in O’Connor v Ortega, 480 US 709, when a public employer conducts such a search, the court must balance the invasion of the employees’ legitimate expectations of privacy against the government’s need for supervision, control, and the efficient operation of the workplace.
The court’s conclusion: “In light of the foregoing, the searches in question, whether they were consensual or not, did not violate plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, and therefore plaintiffs’ claim that they have a likelihood of success on this issue is unpersuasive.”
As to the PBA’s claim that the Authority violated provisions of the MOA, the court ruled that the question was for the arbitrator to determine, as it appears that this dispute is governed by the collective bargaining agreement.
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