The plaintiffs, the town and specifically the town’s zoning enforcement officer, are sued defendant homeowners seeking to inspect defendant’s property for possible zoning violations. The town zoning enforcement officer received an email requesting him to inspect the defendant’s property for unregistered motor vehicles and junk on defendant’s land. The officer went to defendants’ residence, however, defendants refused to allow an inspection. The zoning enforcement officer returned a second time to inspect, but defendants had constructed a fence and again would not allow an inspection. The town brought an action seeking a temporary injunction, preventing the defendants from refusing to allow an inspection.
The trial court granted plaintiff’s temporary injunction, authorizing the enforcement officer to inspect the defendant’s property for zoning violations. The trial court found that state law required zoning enforcement officers to inspect property as a public service. The trial court, thus, granted the injunction based on the public interests of the government.
The defendants appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court arguing that the inspection constitutes a violation of their fourth amendment rights against an improper search. The court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that administrative searches must comply with the fourth amendment. Thus, any search by an administrative agency must meet the fourth amendment’s “reasonable” requirement. The court examined Supreme Court precedent in determining reasonableness and said they must “balance the need to search against the invasion which the search entails.”
First, the court explained, the type of search should be examined. If it is a routine inspection of an entire area, the inspection is not personal, and therefore, allowable. Here, the inspection was not routine or random, it was personal. Second, the court said it must consider the nature of the premise; explaining that a commercial or closely regulated business is more reasonably searched than one’s residential property. Here, the property was a homeowner’s residential property. Finally, the court explained, it must balance individual’s privacy interests against the municipality’s interest in searching for an administrative violation. Here, the court focused on the fact that the search was targeted to one individual property. Thus, the court found that the town’s interest in inspecting zoning violations is not sufficient to outweigh the defendants’ privacy protections under the fourth amendment. The court explained that although it has established a high burden for the government to meet, since most homeowners consent to zoning inspections they have placed no undue burden on the government. In ultimately reversing the trial court’s grant of the temporary injunction, the court reiterated that a “targeted administrative search demands a more particularized showing of probable cause” including a showing of facts “sufficient to cause a reasonable person to believe” there are zoning violations.”
Town of Bozrah v. Chmurynski, 2012 WL 371893 (Conn. 02/14/2012)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.jud.ct.gov/external/supapp/Cases/AROcr/CR303/303CR26.pdf