Fatigue Checklist Violated Fourth Amendment, Says Court

Recently, the Fourth Amendment helped a truck driver win a case. After the Minnesota State Patrol put Stephen House through a line of questioning for no apparent reason and then ordered him out of service (OOS) for 10 hours, he fought back with help from the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA).

Together, they went to court to challenge the MSP’s Level III procedures for determining driver fatigue, and won … thanks to the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable seizure.

Court documents show that House’s log book, vehicle registration, and commercial driver’s license were all current and valid when he gave them to the Minnesota officers. The log book showed no reason to issue a ticket or OOS order.

But then the officers made him go into their offices for questioning — and never said they had a checklist to help identify a driver’s fatigue level. They asked him about such seemingly random things as: how often he woke up to use the bathroom, his neck size, allergies, family illnesses, what he had to read in the cab, how many times he opened his eyes while his wife was driving at night, and whether he had a TV, cell phone, computer, food, and food wrappers in the cab.

House asked what all the questions were about, but the MSP said it was a sleep study. When they were done, though, the officers told him he was too tired to drive and placed him OOS for 10 hours. House’s wife and grown son were with him at the time. The MSP never explained that they had a new procedure to evaluate fatigue — the “Fatigued Driving Evaluation Checklist.”

According to the Court, warrantless searches of a closely regulated industry are constitutional when:

• A substantial government interest is met

• The inspection is needed to support the regulatory program

• The regulatory program defines the inspection’s scope, makes clear to the commercial vehicle owner that the search follows the law, and adequately limits the inspecting officers’ discretion.

The Court found that while the MSP officers were authorized to put House through a routine Level III Inspection, the scope of their investigation and questioning were excessive. They did not, ruled the Court, have a reasonable suspicion that House was fatigued. His detention and the broad scope of their questions constituted an unreasonable seizure, and therefore a violation of his rights as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

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