S.D.Fla.: Co. that rented vehicles to another for rental to public had standing to sue over seizure

By John Wesley Hall
Law Offices of John Wesley Hall
Mar 18, 2017

Plaintiffs stated a Fourth Amendment claim against the City for warrantless seizure of its motorized three-wheeled vehicles. The fact one plaintiff rented them to another in exchange for a share of the profits, and they were seized from the latter, didn’t deprive it of standing to sue. Adventure Trikke & Tours Corp. v. City of Miami Beach & Miami Beach Police Dep’t, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36367 (S.D. Fla. March 13, 2017).

The Defendant asserts that the Plaintiff does not have standing to challenge the seizure because it signed its legal right to control the trikkes over to Hot Wheels in exchange for a share of the profits from the trikke rentals. The Eleventh Circuit has noted, though, that “one who owns. . . property will in all likelihood have a legitimate expectation of privacy by virtue of this right to exclude.” U.S. v. Bachner, 706 F.2d at 1126 n.6. Indeed, the Defendant itself acknowledges that the factors that courts consider in determining whether a person had a reasonable expectation of privacy include property ownership. (Mot. to Dismiss 7, ECF No. 27.) The Defendant does not dispute that the Plaintiff owned the trikkes that were seized. Thus, the Plaintiff has alleged facts sufficient to establish that it has standing to challenge the search and seizure.

The Complaint alleges that the MBPD did not have a warrant to search Hot Wheels’s store and seize the trikkes. (Compl. ¶ 14, ECF No. 24.) The Defendant does not dispute that the MBPD did not have a warrant, but asserts that the police had probable cause to seize the trikkes since the officers had observed Hot Wheels renting the trikkes unlawfully. However, the seizure of personal property without a warrant is per se unreasonable. U.S. v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 700-01, 103 S. Ct. 2637, 77 L. Ed. 2d 110 (1983) (noting that the Fourth Amendment permits seizure of property without a warrant only if the exigencies of the circumstances demand it or some other recognized exception to the warrant requirement applies); Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S. Ct. 507, 19 L. Ed. 2d 576 (1967) (warrantless searches “are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment — subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.”). The Defendant asserts that the search and seizure were reasonable because the trikkes were in plain view in a retail store. However, the Supreme Court has stated that “plain view alone is never enough to justify the warrantless seizure of evidence.” Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 468, 91 S. Ct. 2022, 29 L. Ed. 2d 564. (1971). Construing the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, it does not appear that there were any exigencies that would have justified a warrantless seizure, or that any recognized exception to the warrant requirement applied. Therefore, the Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged facts to support a violation of its Fourth Amendment rights.