West Covina v. Perkins,
525 U.S. 234 (1999)

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No. 97-1230. Argued November 3, 1998-Decided January 13, 1999

Petitioner City's police officers lawfully seized respondents' personal property from their home, leaving a notice form specifying the fact of the search, its date, the searching agency, the warrant's date, the issuing judge and his court, and the persons to be contacted for information, and an itemized list of the property seized. The officers did not leave the search warrant number, but the warrant's issuance was recorded by respondents' address and the warrant number in a public index. After attempts to obtain return of the seized property failed, respondents filed this suit, and the Federal District Court ultimately granted the City summary judgment. In reversing, the Ninth Circuit held, by analogy to Memphis Light, Gas & Water Div. v. Craft, 436 U. S. 1, that the Due Process Clause required that respondents be provided, in addition to the information set forth in the City's form, detailed notice of the state procedures for return of seized property and the information necessary to invoke those procedures, including the search warrant number or a method for obtaining it.

Held: When police seize property for a criminal investigation, the Due Process Clause does not require them to provide the owner with notice of state-law remedies for the property's return. The Ninth Circuit's expansive notice requirement lacks support in this Court's precedent. Individualized notice that officers have taken property is necessary in a case such as this one because the owner has no other reasonable means of ascertaining who is responsible for his loss. However, no similar rationale justifies requiring notice of state-law remedies which, like those at issue here, are established by published, generally available state statutes and case law. Cf., e. g., Reetz v. Michigan, 188 U. S. 505, 509. Memphis, supra, is not to the contrary. See id., at 14, n. 14. To sustain the Ninth Circuit's holding, this Court would have to find that due process requires notice that not one State or the Federal Government has seen fit to require, in the context of law enforcement practices that have existed for centuries. Respondents' alternative argument that the notice given them was inadequate because it did not provide the vital search warrant number is undermined by the District Court's explicit finding that they failed to establish they needed the number to file a motion for return of their property. Pp. 240-244.

113 F.3d 1004, reversed and remanded.


KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and STEVENS, O'CONNOR, SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which SCALIA, J., joined, post, p. 246.

David D. Lawrence argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Cindy S. Lee.

Jeffrey S. Sutton, State Solicitor of Ohio, argued the cause for the State of Ohio et al. as amici curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Betty D. Montgomery, Attorney General of Ohio, Elise W Porter and Jeffrey B. Hartranft, Assistant Attorneys General, and the Attorneys General for their respective jurisdictions as follows: Bill Pryor of Alabama, Bruce M. Botelho of Alaska, Grant Woods of Arizona, Winston Bryant of Arkansas, M. Jane Brady of Delaware, Robert A. Butterworth of Florida, Gus F. Diaz of Guam, Margery S. Bronster of Hawaii, Jeffrey A. Modisett of Indiana, Thomas J. Miller of Iowa, Carla J. Stovall of Kansas, Richard P. Ieyoub of Louisiana, J. Joseph Curran, Jr., of Maryland, Frank J. Kelley of Michigan, Hubert H. Humphrey III of Minnesota, Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana, Don Stenberg of Nebraska, Frankie Sue Del Papa of Nevada, Peter Verniero of New Jersey, Dennis C. Vacco of New York, Michael F. Easley of North Carolina, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, W A. Drew Edmondson of Oklahoma, Hardy Myers of Oregon, Charles M. Condon of South Carolina, Mark W Barnett of South Dakota, Jan Graham of Utah, Mark L. Earley of Virginia, and Christine O. Gregoire of Washington.

Patrick S. Smith argued the cause and filed a brief for respondents. *

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the United States by Solicitor General Waxman, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, and Irving L. Gornstein; for 62 named California Cities, Counties and Towns by Julia Hayward Biggs and Rufus C. Young, Jr.; and for the National League of Cities et al. by Richard Ruda and Clifford M. Sloan.

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