In The

Supreme Court of the United States




Decided March 31, 1987

Justice O’Connor, For the Court


O'Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709 (1987), is a United States Supreme Court decision on the Fourth Amendment rights of government employees with regard to administrative searches in the workplace, during investigations by supervisors for violations of employee policy rather than by law enforcement for criminal offenses. It was brought by Magno Ortega, a doctor at a California state hospital after his supervisors found allegedly inculpatory evidence in his office while he was on administrative leave pending an investigation of alleged misconduct. Some of what they uncovered was later used to impeach a witness who testified on his behalf at the hearing where he unsuccessfully appealed his dismissal.

By a 5-4 margin, the Court ruled that public employees retain their Fourth Amendment rights. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's plurality opinion established an "operating realities" test for future courts to consider when public employees challenged searches during investigations, reflecting the lower reasonable suspicion standard the government had to meet as an employer. That did not establish binding precedent, since Antonin Scalia argued in a separate concurring opinion that her standard was too vague, and that the same searches which would be reasonable for a private employer were proper when conducted by their public counterparts. ...

Despite the two different standards resulting from the split five-justice majority, lower courts have generally followed O'Connor's "operational realities" test in future cases involving actual searches.

Topic: Criminal Procedure*Court vote: 5–4
Click any Justice for detail
Joining O'Connor opinion: Justice POWELL Justice POWELL Chief Justice REHNQUIST Chief Justice REHNQUIST Justice WHITE Justice WHITE
Holding: Fourth Amendment protections apply to public employees under investigation for violations of employer policy but only reasonable suspicion is necessary for search to be conducted; courts must consider operational realities of public workplaces when violations of Fourth Amendment are alleged.
Citation: 480 U.S. 709 Docket: 86–630Audio: Listen to this case's oral arguments at Oyez

* As categorized by the Washington University Law Supreme Court Database

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JUSTICE O'CONNOR announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE WHITE, and JUSTICE POWELL join.

This suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 presents two issues concerning the Fourth Amendment rights of public employees. First, we must determine whether the respondent, a public employee, had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his office, desk, and file cabinets at his place of work. Second, we must address the appropriate Fourth Amendment standard for a search conducted by a public employer in areas in which a public employee is found to have a reasonable expectation of privacy.


Dr. Magno Ortega, a physician and psychiatrist, held the position of Chief of Professional Education at Napa State Hospital (Hospital) for 17 years, until his dismissal from that position in 1981. As Chief of Professional Education, Dr. Ortega had primary responsibility for training young physicians in psychiatric residency programs.

In July, 1981, Hospital officials, including Dr. Dennis O'Connor, the Executive Director of the Hospital, became concerned about possible improprieties in Dr. Ortega's management of the residency program. In particular, the Hospital officials were concerned with Dr. Ortega's acquisition of an Apple II computer for use in the residency program. The officials thought that Dr. Ortega may have misled Dr. O'Connor into believing that the computer had been donated, when in fact the computer had been financed by the possibly coerced contributions of residents. Additionally, the Hospital officials were concerned with charges that Dr. Ortega had sexually harassed two female Hospital employees, and had taken inappropriate disciplinary action against a resident.

On July 30, 1981, Dr. O'Connor requested that Dr. Ortega take paid administrative leave during an investigation of these charges. At Dr. Ortega's request, Dr. O'Connor agreed to allow Dr. Ortega to take two weeks' vacation instead of administrative leave. Dr. Ortega, however, was requested to stay off Hospital grounds for the duration of the investigation. On August 14, 1981, Dr. O'Connor informed Dr. Ortega that the investigation had not yet been completed, and that he was being placed on paid administrative leave. Dr. Ortega remained on administrative leave until the Hospital terminated his employment on September 22, 1981.

Dr. O'Connor selected several Hospital personnel to conduct the investigation, including an accountant, a physician, and a Hospital security officer. Richard Friday, the Hospital Administrator, led this "investigative team." At some point during the investigation, Mr. Friday made the decision to enter Dr. Ortega's office. The specific reason for the entry into Dr. Ortega's office is unclear from the record. The petitioners claim that the search was conducted to secure state property. Initially, petitioners contended that such a search was pursuant to a Hospital policy of conducting a routine inventory of state property in the office of a terminated employee. At the time of the search, however, the Hospital had not yet terminated Dr. Ortega's employment; Dr. Ortega was still on administrative leave. Apparently, there was no policy of inventorying the offices of those on administrative leave. Before the search had been initiated, however, petitioners had become aware that Dr. Ortega had taken the computer to his home. Dr. Ortega contends that the purpose of the search was to secure evidence for use against him in administrative disciplinary proceedings.

The resulting search of Dr. Ortega's office was quite thorough. The investigators entered the office a number of times and seized several items from Dr. Ortega's desk and file cabinets, including a Valentine's Day card, a photograph, and a book of poetry all sent to Dr. Ortega by a former resident physician. These items were later used in a proceeding before a hearing officer of the California State Personnel Board to impeach the credibility of the former resident, who testified on Dr. Ortega's behalf. The investigators also seized billing documentation of one of Dr. Ortega's private patients under the California Medicaid program. The investigators did not otherwise separate Dr. Ortega's property from state property because, as one investigator testified, "[t]rying to sort State from non-State, it was too much to do, so I gave it up and boxed it up." App. 62. Thus, no formal inventory of the property in the office was ever made. Instead, all the papers in Dr. Ortega's office were merely placed in boxes and put in storage for Dr. Ortega to retrieve.

Dr. Ortega commenced this action against petitioners in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. §1083, alleging that the search of his office violated the Fourth Amendment. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court granted petitioners' motion for summary judgment. The District Court, relying on Chenkin v. Bellevue Hospital Center, New York City Health & Hospitals Corp., 479 F.Supp. 207 (SDNY 1979), concluded that the search was proper because there was a need to secure state property in the office. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, 764 F.2d 703 (1985), concluding that Dr. Ortega had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his office. While the Hospital had a procedure for office inventories, these inventories were reserved for employees who were departing or were terminated. The Court of Appeals also concluded -albeit without explanation -that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals held that the record justified a grant of partial summary judgment for Dr. Ortega on the issue of liability for an unlawful search, and it remanded the case to the District Court for a determination of damages.

We granted certiorari, 474 U.S. 1018 (1985), and now reverse and remand.


The strictures of the Fourth Amendment, applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, have been applied to the conduct of governmental officials in various civil activities. New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U. S. 325, 469 U. S. 334 -335 (1985). Thus, we have held in the past that the Fourth Amendment governs the conduct of school officials, see ibid., building inspectors, see Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U. S. 523, 387 U. S. 528 (1967), and Occupational Safety and Health Act inspectors, see Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., 436 U. S. 307, 436 U. S. 312 -313 (1978). As we observed in T.L.0.,

[b]ecause the individual's interest in privacy and personal security 'suffers whether the government's motivation is to investigate violations of criminal laws or breaches of other statutory or regulatory standards,'... it would be 'anomalous to say that the individual and his private property are fully protected by the Fourth Amendment only when the individual is suspected of criminal behavior.'

469 U.S. at 469 U. S. 335 (quoting Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., supra, at 436 U. S. 312 -313 and Camara v. Municipal Court, supra, at 387 U. S. 530 ). Searches and seizures by government employers or supervisors of the private property of their employees, therefore, are subject to the restraints of the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment protects the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.... " Our cases establish that Dr. Ortega's Fourth Amendment rights are implicated only if the conduct of the Hospital officials at issue in this case infringed "an expectation of privacy that society is prepared to consider reasonable." United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U. S. 109, 466 U. S. 113 (1984). We have no talisman that determines in all cases those privacy expectations that society is prepared to accept as reasonable. Instead,

the Court has given weight to such factors as the intention of the Framers of the Fourth Amendment, the uses to which the individual has put a location, and our societal understanding that certain areas deserve the most scrupulous protection from government invasion.

Oliver v. United States, 466 U. S. 170, 466 U. S. 178 (1984) (citations omitted).

Because the reasonableness of an expectation of privacy, as well as the appropriate standard for a search, is understood to differ according to context, it is essential first to delineate the boundaries of the workplace context. The workplace includes those areas and items that are related to work and are generally within the employer's control. At a hospital, for example, the hallways, cafeteria, offices, desks, and file cabinets, among other areas, are all part of the workplace. These areas remain part of the workplace context even if the employee has placed personal items in them, such as a photograph placed in a desk or a letter posted on an employee bulletin board.

Not everything that passes through the confines of the business address can be considered part of the workplace context, however. An employee may bring closed luggage to the office prior to leaving on a trip, or a handbag or briefcase each workday. While whatever expectation of privacy the employee has in the existence and the outward appearance of the luggage is affected by its presence in the workplace, the employee's expectation of privacy in the contents of the luggage is not affected in the same way. The appropriate standard for a workplace search does not necessarily apply to a piece of closed personal luggage, a handbag, or a briefcase that happens to be within the employer's business address.

Within the workplace context, this Court has recognized that employees may have a reasonable expectation of privacy against intrusions by police. See Mancusi v. DeForte, 392 U. S. 364 (1968). As with the expectation of privacy in one's home, such an expectation in one's place of work is "based upon societal expectations that have deep roots in the history of the Amendment." Oliver v. United States, supra, at 466 U. S. 178, n. 8. Thus, in Mancusi v. DeForte, supra, the Court held that a union employee who shared an office with other union employees had a privacy interest in the office sufficient to challenge successfully the warrantless search of that office:

It has long been settled that one has standing to object to a search of his office, as well as of his home.... [I]t seems clear that if DeForte had occupied a 'private' office in the union headquarters, and union records had been seized from a desk or a filing cabinet in that office, he would have had standing.... In such a 'private' office, DeForte would have been entitled to expect that he would not be disturbed except by personal or business invitees, and that records would not be taken except with his permission or that of his union superiors.

392 U.S. at 392 U. S. 369.

Given the societal expectations of privacy in one's place of work expressed in both Oliver and Mancusi, we reject the contention made by the Solicitor General and petitioners that public employees can never have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their place of work. Individuals do not lose Fourth Amendment rights merely because they work for the government, instead of a private employer. The operational realities of the workplace, however, may make some employees' expectations of privacy unreasonable when an intrusion is by a supervisor, rather than a law enforcement official. Public employees' expectations of privacy in their offices, desks, and file cabinets, like similar expectations of employees in the private sector, may be reduced by virtue of actual office practices and procedures, or by legitimate regulation. Indeed, in Mancusi itself, the Court suggested that the union employee did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy against his union supervisors. 392 U.S. at 392 U. S. 369. The employee's expectation of privacy must be assessed in the context of the employment relation. An office is seldom a private enclave free from entry by supervisors, other employees, and business and personal invitees. Instead, in many cases offices are continually entered by fellow employees and other visitors during the workday for conferences, consultations, and other work-related visits. Simply put, it is the nature of government offices that others -such as fellow employees, supervisors, consensual visitors, and the general public -may have frequent access to an individual's office. We agree with JUSTICE SCALIA that

"[c]onstitutional protection against unreasonable searches by the government does not disappear merely because the government has the right to make reasonable intrusions in its capacity as employer, " post at 480 U. S. 731, but some government offices may be so open to fellow employees or the public that no expectation of privacy is reasonable. Cf. Katz v. United States, 389 U. S. 347, 389 U. S. 351 (1967) ("What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not s subject of Fourth Amendment protection"). Given the great variety of work environments in the public sector, the question whether an employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy must be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

The Court of Appeals concluded that Dr. Ortega had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his office, and five Members of this Court agree with that determination. See post at 480 U. S. 731 -732 (SCALIA, J., concurring in judgment); post at 480 U. S. 732 (BLACKMUN, J., joined by BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., dissenting). Because the record does not reveal the extent to which Hospital officials may have had work-related reasons to enter Dr. Ortega's office, we think the Court of Appeals should have remanded the matter to the District Court for its further determination. But regardless of any legitimate right of access the Hospital staff may have had to the office as such, we recognize that the undisputed evidence suggests that Dr. Ortega had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his desk and file cabinets. The undisputed evidence discloses that Dr. Ortega did not share his desk or file cabinets with any other employees. Dr. Ortega had occupied the office for 17 years, and he kept materials in his office which included personal correspondence, medical files, correspondence from private patients unconnected to the Hospital, personal financial records, teaching aids and notes, and personal gifts and mementos. App. 14. The files on physicians in residency training were kept outside Dr. Ortega's office. Id. at 21. Indeed, the only items found by the investigators were apparently personal items, because, with the exception of the items seized for use in the administrative hearings, all the papers and effects found in the office were simply placed in boxes and made available to Dr. Ortega. Id. at 68, 62. Finally, we note that there was no evidence that the Hospital had established any reasonable regulation or policy discouraging employees such as Dr. Ortega from storing personal papers and effects in their desks or file cabinets, id. at 44, although the absence of such a policy does not create an expectation of privacy where it would not otherwise exist.

On the basis of this undisputed evidence, we accept the conclusion of the Court of Appeals that Dr. Ortega had a reasonable expectation of privacy at least in his desk and file cabinets. See Gillard v. Schmidt, 679 F.2d 826, 829 (CA3 1978); United States v. Speights, 667 F.2d 362 (CA3 1977); United States v. Blok, 88 U.S.App.D.C. 326, 188 F.2d 1019 (1951).


Having determined that Dr. Ortega had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his office, the Court of Appeals simply concluded without discussion that the "search... was not a reasonable search under the fourth amendment." 764 F.2d at 707. But as we have stated in T.L.O.,

[t]o hold that the Fourth Amendment applies to searches conducted by [public employers] is only to begin the inquiry into the standards governing such searches.... [W]hat is reasonable depends on the context within which a search takes place.

New Jersey v. T.L.0., 469 U.S. at 469 U. S. 337. Thus, we must determine the appropriate standard of reasonableness applicable to the search. A determination of the standard of reasonableness applicable to a particular class of searches requires

balanc[ing] the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the governmental interests alleged to justify the intrusion.

United States v. Place, 462 U. S. 696, 463 U. S. 703 (1983); Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. at 387 U. S. 536 -537. In the case of searches conducted by a public employer, we must balance the invasion of the employees' legitimate expectations of privacy against the government's need for supervision, control, and the efficient operation of the workplace.

"[I]t is settled... that "except in certain carefully defined classes of cases, a search of private property without proper consent is unreasonable' unless it has been authorized by a valid search warrant.""

Mancusi v. DeForte, 392 U.S. at 392 U. S. 370 (quoting Camara v. Municipal Court, supra, at 387 U. S. 528 -529). There are some circumstances, however, in which we have recognized that a warrant requirement is unsuitable. In particular, a warrant requirement is not appropriate when "the burden of obtaining a warrant is likely to frustrate the governmental purpose behind the search." Camara v. Municipal Court, supra, at 387 U. S. 533. Or, as JUSTICE BLACKMUN stated in T.L.O.,

[o]nly in those exceptional circumstances in which special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement, make the warrant and probable cause requirement impracticable.

469 U.S. at 469 U. S. 351 (concurring in judgment). In Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., 436 U. S. 307 (1978), for example, the Court explored the burdens a warrant requirement would impose on the Occupational Safety and Health Act regulatory scheme, and held that the warrant requirement was appropriate only after concluding that warrants would not

impose serious burdens on the inspection system or the courts, [would not] prevent inspections necessary to enforce the statute, or [would not] make them less effective.

436 U.S. at 436 U. S. 316. In New Jersey v. T.L.O., supra, we concluded that the warrant requirement was not suitable to the school environment, because such a requirement would unduly interfere with the maintenance of the swift and informal disciplinary procedures needed in the schools.

There is surprisingly little case law on the appropriate Fourth Amendment standard of reasonableness for a public employer's work-related search of its employee's offices, desks, or file cabinets. Generally, however, the lower courts have held that any "work-related" search by an employer satisfies the Fourth Amendment reasonableness requirement. See United States v. Nasser, 476 F.2d 1111, 1123 (CA7 1973) ("work-related" searches and seizures are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment); United States v. Collins, 349 F.2d 863, 868 (CA2 1965) (upholding search and seizure because conducted pursuant to "the power of the Government as defendant's employer, to supervise and investigate the performance of his duties as a Customs employee"). Others have suggested the use of a standard other than probable cause. See United States v. Bunkers, 521 F.2d 1217 (CA9 1975) (work-related search of a locker tested under "reasonable cause" standard); United States v. Blok, supra, at 328, 188 F.2d at 1021 ("No doubt a search of [a desk] without her consent would have been reasonable if made by some people in some circumstances. Her official superiors might reasonably have searched the desk for official property needed for official use"). The only cases to imply that a warrant should be required involve searches that are not work-related, see Gillard v. Schmidt, supra, at 829, n. 1, or searches for evidence of criminal misconduct, see United States v. Kahan, 350 F.Supp. 784 (SDNY 1972).

The legitimate privacy interests of public employees in the private objects they bring to the workplace may be substantial. Against these privacy interests, however, must be balanced the realities of the workplace, which strongly suggest that a warrant requirement would be unworkable. While police, and even administrative enforcement personnel, conduct searches for the primary purpose of obtaining evidence for use in criminal or other enforcement proceedings, employers most frequently need to enter the offices and desks of their employees for legitimate work-related reasons wholly unrelated to illegal conduct. Employers and supervisors are focused primarily on the need to complete the government agency's work in a prompt and efficient manner. An employer may have need for correspondence, or a file or report available only in an employee's office while the employee is away from the office. Or, as is alleged to have been the case here, employers may need to safeguard or identify state property or records in an office in connection with a pending investigation into suspected employee misfeasance.

In our view, requiring an employer to obtain a warrant whenever the employer wished to enter an employee's office, desk, or file cabinets for a work-related purpose would seriously disrupt the routine conduct of business and would be unduly burdensome. Imposing unwieldy warrant procedures in such cases upon supervisors, who would otherwise have no reason to be familiar with such procedures, is simply unreasonable. In contrast to other circumstances in which we have required warrants, supervisors in offices such as at the Hospital are hardly in the business of investigating the violation of criminal laws. Rather, work-related searches are merely incident to the primary business of the agency. Under these circumstances, the imposition of a warrant requirement would conflict with "the common sense realization that government offices could not function if every employment decision became a constitutional matter." Connick v. Myers, 461 U. S. 138, 461 U. S. 143 (1983).

Whether probable cause is an inappropriate standard for public employer searches of their employees' offices presents a more difficult issue. For the most part, we have required that a search be based upon probable cause, but as we noted in New Jersey v. T.L.O.,

[t]he fundamental command of the Fourth Amendment is that searches and seizures be reasonable, and although !both the concept of probable cause and the requirement of a warrant bear on the reasonableness of a search,... in certain limited circumstances neither is required.

469 U.S. at 469 U. S. 340 (quoting Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, 413 U. S. 266, 413 U. S. 277 (1973) (POWELL, J., concurring)). Thus,

[w]here a careful balancing of governmental and private interests suggests that the public interest is best served by a Fourth Amendment standard of reasonableness that stops short of probable cause, we have not hesitated to adopt such a standard.

469 U.S. at 469 U. S. 341. We have concluded, for example, that the appropriate standard for administrative searches is not probable cause in its traditional meaning. Instead, an administrative warrant can be obtained if there is a showing that reasonable legislative or administrative standards for conducting an inspection are satisfied. See Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., 436 U.S. at 436 U. S. 320 ; Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. at 387 U. S. 538.

As an initial matter, it is important to recognize the plethora of contexts in which employers will have an occasion to intrude to some extent on an employee's expectation of privacy. Because the parties in this case have alleged that the search was either a noninvestigatory work-related intrusion or an investigatory search for evidence of suspected work-related employee misfeasance, we undertake to determine the appropriate Fourth Amendment standard of reasonableness only for these two types of employer intrusions, and leave for another day inquiry into other circumstances.

The governmental interest justifying work-related intrusions by public employers is the efficient and proper operation of the workplace. Government agencies provide myriad services to the public, and the work of these agencies would suffer if employers were required to have probable cause before they entered an employee's desk for the purpose of finding a file or piece of office correspondence. Indeed, it is difficult to give the concept of probable cause, rooted as it is in the criminal investigatory context, much meaning when the purpose of a search is to retrieve a file for work-related reasons. Similarly, the concept of probable cause has little meaning for a routine inventory conducted by public employers for the purpose of securing state property. See Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U. S. 367 (1987); Illinois v. Lafayette, 462 U. S. 640 (1983). To ensure the efficient and proper operation of the agency, therefore, public employers must be given wide latitude to enter employee offices for work-related, noninvestigatory reasons.

We come to a similar conclusion for searches conducted pursuant to an investigation of work-related employee misconduct. Even when employers conduct an investigation, they have an interest substantially different from "the normal need for law enforcement." New Jersey v. T.L.O., supra, at 469 U. S. 351 (BLACKMUN, J., concurring in judgment). Public employers have an interest in ensuring that their agencies operate in an effective and efficient manner, and the work of these agencies inevitably suffers from the inefficiency, incompetence, mismanagement, or other work-related misfeasance of its employees. Indeed, in many cases, public employees are entrusted with tremendous responsibility, and the consequences of their misconduct or incompetence to both the agency and the public interest can be severe. In contrast to law enforcement officials, therefore, public employers are not enforcers of the criminal law; instead, public employers have a direct and overriding interest in ensuring that the work of the agency is conducted in a proper and efficient manner. In our view, therefore, a probable cause requirement for searches of the type at issue here would impose intolerable burdens on public employers. The delay in correcting the employee misconduct caused by the need for probable cause, rather than reasonable suspicion, will be translated into tangible and often irreparable damage to the agency's work, and ultimately to the public interest. See 469 U.S. at 469 U. S. 353 ("The time required for a teacher to ask the questions or make the observations that are necessary to turn reasonable grounds into probable cause is time during which the teacher, and other students, are diverted from the essential task of education"). Additionally, while law enforcement officials are expected to "schoo[l] themselves in the niceties of probable cause," id. at 469 U. S. 343, no such expectation is generally applicable to public employers, at least when the search is not used to gather evidence of a criminal offense. It is simply unrealistic to expect supervisors in most government agencies to learn the subtleties of the probable cause standard. As JUSTICE BLACKMUN observed in T.L.O.,

[a] teacher has neither the training nor the day-to-day experience in the complexities of probable cause that a law enforcement officer possesses, and is ill-equipped to make a quick judgment about the existence of probable cause.

Id. at 469 U. S. 353. We believe that this observation is an equally apt description of the public employer and supervisors at the Hospital, and we conclude that a reasonableness standard will permit regulation of the employer's conduct "according to the dictates of reason and common sense." Id. at 469 U. S. 343.

Balanced against the substantial government interests in the efficient and proper operation of the workplace are the privacy interests of government employees in their place of work, which, while not insubstantial, are far less than those found at home or in some other contexts. As with the building inspections in Camara, the employer intrusions at issue here "involve a relatively limited invasion" of employee privacy. 387 U.S. at 387 U. S. 537. Government offices are provided to employees for the sole purpose of facilitating the work of an agency. The employee may avoid exposing personal belongings at work by simply leaving them at home.

In sum, we conclude that the "special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement make the.... probable cause requirement impracticable," 469 U.S. at 469 U. S. 351 (BLACKMUN, J., concurring in judgment), for legitimate work-related, noninvestigatory intrusions as well as investigations of work-related misconduct. A standard of reasonableness will neither unduly burden the efforts of government employers to ensure the efficient and proper operation of the workplace nor authorize arbitrary intrusions upon the privacy of public employees. We hold, therefore, that public employer intrusions on the constitutionally protected privacy interests of government employees for noninvestigatory, work-related purposes, as well as for investigations of work-related misconduct, should be judged by the standard of reasonableness under all the circumstances. Under this reasonableness standard, both the inception and the scope of the intrusion must be reasonable:

Determining the reasonableness of any search involves a twofold inquiry: first, one must consider 'whether the... action was justified at its inception,' Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. at 392 U. S. 20 ; second, one must determine whether the search as actually conducted 'was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place,' ibid.

New Jersey v. T.L.O., supra, at 469 U. S. 341.

Ordinarily, a search of an employee's office by a supervisor will be "justified at its inception" when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the employee is guilty of work-related misconduct, or that the search is necessary for a noninvestigatory work-related purpose such as to retrieve a needed file. Because petitioners had an "individualized suspicion" of misconduct by Dr. Ortega, we need not decide whether individualized suspicion is an essential element of the standard of reasonableness that we adopt today. See New Jersey v. T.L.O., supra, at 469 U. S. 342, n. 8. The search will be permissible in its scope when "the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of... the nature of the [misconduct]." 469 U.S. at 469 U. S. 342.


In the procedural posture of this case, we do not attempt to determine whether the search of Dr. Ortega's office and the seizure of his personal belongings satisfy the standard of reasonableness we have articulated in this case. No evidentiary hearing was held in this case, because the District Court acted on cross-motions for summary judgment, and granted petitioners summary judgment. The Court of Appeals, on the other hand, concluded that the record in this case justified granting partial summary judgment on liability to Dr. Ortega.

We believe that both the District Court and the Court of Appeals were in error, because summary judgment was inappropriate. The parties were in dispute about the actual justification for the search, and the record was inadequate for a determination on motion for summary judgment of the reasonableness of the search and seizure. Petitioners have consistently attempted to justify the search and seizure as required to secure the state property in Dr. Ortega's office. Mr. Friday testified in a deposition that he had ordered members of the investigative team to

check Dr. Ortega's office out in order to separate the business files from any personal files in order to ascertain what was in his office.

App. 50. He further testified that the search was initiated because he

wanted to make sure that we had our state property identified, and in order to provide Dr. Ortega with his property and get what we had out of there, in order to make sure our resident's files were protected, and that sort of stuff.

Id. at 51.

In their motion for summary judgment in the District Court, petitioners alleged that this search to secure property was reasonable as "part of the established hospital policy to inventory property within offices of departing, terminated or separated employees." Record Doc. No. 24, p. 9. The District Court apparently accepted this characterization of the search because it applied Chenkin v. Bellevue Hospital Center, New York City Health & Hospitals Corp., 479 F.Supp. 207 (SDNY 1979), a case involving a Fourth Amendment challenge to an inspection policy. At the time of the search, however, Dr. Ortega had not been terminated, but rather was still on administrative leave, and the record does not reflect whether the Hospital had a policy of inventorying the property of investigated employees. Respondent, moreover, has consistently rejected petitioners' characterization of the search as motivated by a need to secure state property. Instead, Dr. Ortega has contended that the intrusion was an investigatory search whose purpose was simply to discover evidence that would be of use in administrative proceedings. He has pointed to the fact that no inventory was ever taken of the property in the office, and that seized evidence was eventually used in the administrative proceedings. Additionally, Dr. O'Connor stated in a deposition that one purpose of the search was "to look for contractural [ sic ] and other kinds of documents that might have been related to the issues" involved in the investigation. App. 38.

Under these circumstances, the District Court was in error in granting petitioners summary judgment. There was a dispute of fact about the character of the search, and the District Court acted under the erroneous assumption that the search was conducted pursuant to a Hospital policy. Moreover, no findings were made as to the scope of the search that was undertaken.

The Court of Appeals concluded that Dr. Ortega was entitled to partial summary judgment on liability. It noted that the Hospital had no policy of inventorying the property of employees on administrative leave, but it did not consider whether the search was otherwise reasonable. Under the standard of reasonableness articulated in this case, however, the absence of a Hospital policy did not necessarily make the search unlawful. A search to secure state property is valid as long as petitioners had a reasonable belief that there was government property in Dr. Ortega's office which needed to be secured, and the scope of the intrusion was itself reasonable in light of this justification. Indeed, petitioners have put forward evidence that they had such a reasonable belief; at the time of the search, petitioners knew that Dr. Ortega had removed the computer from the Hospital. The removal of the computer -together with the allegations of mismanagement of the residency program and sexual harassment -may have made the search reasonable at its inception under the standard we have put forth in this case. As with the District Court order, therefore, the Court of Appeals conclusion that summary judgment was appropriate cannot stand.

On remand, therefore, the District Court must determine the justification for the search and seizure and evaluate the reasonableness of both the inception of the search and its scope. *

Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

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