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The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Fourth Amendment unreasonable search claim from a fired Nebraska prison guard this week, finding that the district court’s decision did not warrant further review.
The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) employed the guard, Brian True at the Lincoln Correction Center (LCC) from 1995 until 2007.
True was advised when he was hired that DCS conducts unannounced searches of employees’ vehicles in its parking lots to prevent contraband from entering the prison. The DCS employee handbook, which True received and agreed to read, states that “vehicles parked on state property are subject to search at any time,” and that refusal “to submit to a search may constitute grounds for disciplinary action and/or suspension.”
True was informed in April 2007 that his car had been selected for a random search. The DCS held a disciplinary hearing after True refused to allow the search; True stated at the hearing that he would not comply with any future random searches of his vehicle, and he was terminated.
True sued claiming that the DCS was violating his rights with an unreasonable search.
The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all of True's claims. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to the district court to determine whether inmates had access to the employee parking lot in question, reports the Lincoln Journal Star.
The district court determined that, while inmates could not access the lot, community custody inmates who can leave and re-enter did. Based on that evidence, the district court upheld the search. On Wednesday, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision.
Does the Eighth Circuit's holding mean any warrantless workplace search can survive an unreasonable search claim? Not quite. As a prison guard, Brian True was a state employee, and the DCS random search policy was rationally related to the legitimate state interest of keeping contraband out of prisons.