Law School Case Brief
Nelson v. Lane Cty. - 304 Or. 97, 743 P.2d 692 (1987)
An administrative search conducted without individualized suspicion of wrongdoing could be valid if it were permitted by a source of the authority, that is, a law or ordinance providing sufficient indications of the purposes and limits of executive authority, and if it were carried out pursuant to a properly authorized administrative program, designed and systematically administered to control the discretion of non-supervisory officers.
Police officers established a nighttime sobriety roadblock (a fixed checkpoint at which all cars were stopped). While in her car, plaintiff Lynda Nelson was stopped at he checkpoint and was questioned about her alcohol consumption, detained for a sobriety field test and then released. Nelson later filed a lawsuit in Oregon state court against defendant Lane County and others seeking injunctive relief and punitive damages under the Oregon Tort Claims Act ("Act"). Nelson alleged violations of state law and the state and federal constitutional rights, particularly the warrant clause. The trial court granted defendants summary judgment. On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Oregon held that the roadblock violated the warrant clause. Defendants appealed.
Did the roadblock violate the warrant clause?
The Supreme Court of Oregon affirmed appellate court's judgment. It held that the power to seize did not arise by implication from Or. Rev. Stat. § 181.030, allowing the police broad authority to "prevent crime." Authority to conduct the roadblocks as an administrative search required a law or ordinance detailing the purpose of the search and the limits of executive authority. No such authority existed in the case. Thus, Nelson was entitled to declaratory relief that defendants' conduct was illegal. Nevertheless, the Act barred a punitive damages claim against defendants. Punitive damages were unavailable because no violation of the Fourth Amendment occurred. The officers' discretion was limited and all drivers were stopped. In fact, only if there was suspicion a driver was intoxicated was a fieled sobriety test conducted. The court remanded to the trial court allow the driver to develop the factual bases of her tort theories.
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