Los Angeles violates the U.S. Constitution in requiring hotel and motel owners to hand over guest information without a warrant, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
Hoteliers Naranjibhai and Ramilaben Patel challenged the city ordinance under the Fourth Amendment as an unlawful invasion of their private business records.
Section 41.49 of Los Angeles Municipal Code says hoteliers must record and keep for 90 days information about each guest, including their names and addresses, details about their vehicles, arrival and departure dates, room numbers, the rate charged and payment method. Moreover, if a police officer requests the information, hotel owners must submit to a warrantless, onsite inspection of their guest registries or face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The ordinance is meant to deter drug-dealing and prostitution in the city.
U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer sided with the city of Los Angeles after a bench trial, and a split three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Pasadena affirmed in July 2012. Both courts concluded that the Patels had failed to show a privacy interest in the registry information
The 9th Circuit later agreed to reconsider the issue before an 11-judge, en banc panel. This time, a seven-justice majority reversed based on their finding that the inspection portion of the law clearly violates the Fourth Amendment.