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City of Ontario v. Quon  (08-1332) 
Search of police pager text messages was reasonable, so no 4th amendment violation. 
Decided June 17, 2010 
[Opinion full text]

The City provided alphanumeric pagers to police officers on the SWAT team. After Sgt. Quon exceeded his allotted usage limit, the City acquired transcripts from the pager provider and discovered that Quon had used the pager for personal purposes and that some messages were sexually explicit. Quon and those with whom he had exchanged messages sued claiming an unlawful search in violation of the 4th amendment. The trial court found that officers had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the text messages, but that the search did not violate the 4th amendment. The 9th Circuit reversed, holding that the search was unreasonable as matter of law.

The US Supreme Court reversed, holding that the search of Quon's text messages was reasonable and did not violate the 4th amendment. The search was motivated by a legitimate work-related purpose, and it was not excessive in scope. (The Court assumed - without deciding - that Quon had a reasonable expectation of privacy.)

Case below: Quon v. Arch Wireless (9th Cir 06/18/2008); order denying rehearing en banc, dissent from order, concurring in order 
Official docket sheet 
Certiorari granted December 14, 2009.
Oral argument:  April 19, 2010. [Transcript]

Questions presented:   

While individuals do not lose Fourth Amendment rights merely because they work for the government, some expectations of privacy held by government employees may be unreasonable due to the "operational realities of the workplace." OíConnor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709, 717 (1987) (plurality). Even if there exists a reasonable expectation of privacy, a warrantless search by a government employer - for non-investigatory work-related purposes or for investigations of work-related misconduct - is permissible if reasonable under the circumstances. Id. at 725-26 (plurality). The questions presented are: 

1. Whether a SWAT team member has a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages transmitted on his SWAT pager, where the police department has an official no-privacy policy but a non-policymaking lieutenant announced an informal policy of allowing some personal use of the pagers. 

2. Whether the Ninth Circuit contravened this Courtís Fourth Amendment precedents and created a circuit conflict by analyzing whether the police department could have used "less intrusive methods" of reviewing text messages transmitted by a SWAT team member on his SWAT pager. 

3. Whether individuals who send text messages to a SWAT team memberís SWAT pager have a reasonable expectation that their messages will be free from review by the recipientís government employer. 

Certiorari Documents: 

Briefs on the merits: 


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