Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Association

Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives' Association Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
489 U.S. 602 (1989)

ISSUE: Is it an unreasonable search of a railroad employee to automatically require him to undergo blood, urine, or breath tests immediately following certain incidents on a railroad in order to determine if he has consumed intoxicants despite lacking individualized suspicion?
  • NRA concluded that alcohol consumption is a major concern on America's railways and that it significantly contributes to railway disasters
  • The early proscriptions of "Rule G" didn't help much because enforcement relied upon observations of employees
  • The FRA then promulgated regulations requiring automatic blood, urine, or breath testing of employees following certain accidents to determine whether the employees were intoxicated
  • For certain other incidents, "reasonable suspicion" that one in intoxicated is required
  • RLEA brought this suit for injunction and the Dist. Ct. denied injunction
  • Ct. App. reversed finding the regulations unconstitutional
  • Testing is a search: A compelled intrusion into the body for blood to be analyzed for alcohol content is a search
    • Penetrating the skin infringes upon a reasonable expectation of privacy
  • No warrant requirement: The burden of obtaining a warrant is likely to frustrate the govt.'s interest in protecting against railway calamities, and any delay in obtaining a warrant might result in the destruction of evidence (processing by the body)
  • No individualized suspicion needed: Testing procedures only impose slightly upon the employees' expectations of privacy while the govt. interest in testing without individualized suspicion is compelling
    • Employees' freedom of movement is already impaired by the nature of employment
    • Blood collection is not an unduly extensive imposition on an individual's expectation of privacy
    • The regulations endeavor to reduce the intrusiveness of the urine collection process
    • Breath tests are extremely minimal
    • Intoxicated employees seldom manifest outward signs of their impairment
    • Regulations significantly increase the deterrent effect of the termination penalty
  • Make no mistake: urinalysis is still a "search" that invokes the Fourth Amendment. However, the Terry "balancing approach" weighs in favor of allowing suspicionless urinalysis of railway employees.
  • The Supreme Court has put its imprimatur on urinalysis of railway employees, border patrol agents, and students wishing to participate in extracurricular activities. However, candidates for public office and pregnant mothers are off limits.
  • Ntl. Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab: Urinalysis of border patrol employees without individualized suspicion was reasonable given the interest in safeguarding the borders and the nature of carrying a gun
  • Vernonia School Dist. v. Acton: Suspcionless drug testing of high school and grade school students who wished to participate in interscholastic activities was reasonable because the intrusion in collecting the samples was slight while the govt. interest in deterring drug use was "important enough" to justify the search
    • Public safety -- recreational drug use
    • Impact on public -- only school students affected; students have lowered expectations of privacy
  • Board of Education of Independent School Dist. v. Earls: Suspicionless urinalysis of middle and high school students wishing to participate inany extracurricular activities was reasonable
    • Schools can subject anyone interested in participating in extracurricular activities, not all students
    • There's still some choice to not be tested



Leave a Reply