LeSueur-Richmond Slate Corporation v. Fehrer, No. 11-1112

Decided: January 13, 2012

LeSueur-Richmond Slate Corporation appealed the dismissal of its action against Defendants-Appellees, mineral inspectors for the Virginia Department of Mines, alleging Fourth Amendment violations in conjunction with warrantless searches of LeSueur-Richmond’s mining facility. The Department administers Virginia’s Mineral Mine Safety Act, which, in pertinent part, provides for the warrantless administrative inspections of surface mines to respond to complaints of violations of the Act. After receiving anonymous tips that the mine was not in compliance with Virginia regulations, defendants conducted approximately twenty-five warrantless inspections of LeSueur-Richmond’s mining operation and issued thirty-two violations against LeSueur-Richmond. LeSueur-Richmond filed a § 1983 action against defendants, claiming that the Department’s warrantless investigations violated both the federal and state constitutions. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, and the district court granted the motion on the grounds of qualified immunity and failure to state a claim. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Act was constitutional. Further, the Court held that under the Fourth Amendment a party may challenge both the constitutionality of the Act permitting warrantless searches as well as the conduct of the government officials in a particular case. However, the Court found that the mine inspectors’ conduct was constitutional because the searches were objectively supported by multiple complaints to which the inspectors were responding and there was no indication that the inspections were a pretext for harassment or other improper conduct. Thus, the Court dismissed LeSueur-Richmond’s complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Moreover, because there was no constitutional violation, defendants were protected by qualified immunity. Therefore, the district court’s decision was affirmed.

Full Opinion

-Sara I. Salehi

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