In United States v. Hall, 47 F.3d 1091 (11th Cir. 1995), the Eleventh Circuit
Court of Appeals discussed the difference between a business and an
individual's reasonable expectation of privacy in the area around their home
or business. Hall filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that the
search and seizure violated the Fourth Amendment. The Eleventh Circuit
Court of Appeals ultimately held that the search and seizure of the shredded
documents from the dumpster on Bet-Air's property was not a violation of the
Fourth Amendment. The court affirmed the district court's denial of Hall's
motion to suppress the evidence.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against
unreasonable searches and seizures. The court likely applied the two-part
test established in the Supreme Court case of Katz v. United States to
determine whether the search and seizure violated the Fourth Amendment.
The test examines whether an individual has a "reasonable expectation of
privacy and whether that expectation is one society is prepared to recognize
as reasonable"(SCOTUS, 1967).
In this case, the court determined that Bet-Air, being a business, had a
reduced expectation of privacy compared to an individual. Businesses
involved in commercial activities have a lower expectation of privacy
regarding items discarded in dumpsters because they are exposed to the
public. The court likely concluded that society does not recognize the
expectation of privacy in discarded items to the same extent as it does for
items within the curtilage of a home (US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh
Circuit - 47 F.3d 1091, 1995). The result might have been different if the
dumpster was on private property instead of commercial property. The
concept of "curtilage" typically applies more strongly to residential
properties, and individuals may have a higher expectation of privacy within
their curtilage. If the dumpster were on a residential property or access was
more stringently restricted, there might be a stronger argument for a
reasonable expectation of privacy.
However, it's important to note that the expectation of privacy analysis can
still vary based on the specific circumstances and the court's interpretation.
If I were an executive at Bet-Air and wanted to assert a stronger expectation
of privacy in the dumpster, I would consider taking steps such as clearly
marking the dumpster as private property and not for public use or
restricting access to the dumpster via a lock or fenced area surrounding the
dumpster. In addition, I would consider posting a private property sign at the
beginning of the supposedly private drive, clearly delineating public access
from private. Lastly, I would consider implementing secure document
disposal methods, such as shredding documents in a secure area within the
business premises before placing them in the dumpster.
Although no actions are beyond litigation and debate, by taking these steps,
Bet-Air could create a stronger argument for a reasonable expectation of