Farmers' trade association suing L&I on searches
The Washington Farm Bureau said Tuesday it will sue the state Department of Labor and Industries, accusing the agency's safety inspectors of conducting unconstitutional searches on private property.
In a lawsuit to be filed in Spokane U.S. District Court, the trade association will ask the court to declare unconstitutional a state law that gives safety inspectors access to private property. The Farm Bureau also will ask the court to bar the agency from entering private property without an owner's permission or a warrant.
The implications of the case could be far reaching. The trade association is suing on behalf of its farm-based membership, although the principles in the case could affect every employer whose workplace is regulated by the state Department of Labor and Industries.
The Farm Bureau went to court because some state safety inspectors repeatedly entered farms and interviewed workers without contacting the businesses' owners and supervisors, said Dan Fazio, the association's assistant director of government relations.
In some cases, state agents didn't tell property owners about their inspection until it was over, the lawsuit alleges.
A state statute says inspectors can enter and inspect work sites "without delay" upon showing their credentials to an owner or someone in charge, according to the lawsuit. The statute was based on a U.S. law that Congress adopted for federal workplace regulators.
But the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978 struck down the federal law because it allowed warrantless inspections of private property, which are contrary to the Fourth Amendment.
More than 20 years later, the Farm Bureau's attorneys are arguing that the state law is "virtually identical" to the stricken federal law, and should also be declared unconstitutional, according to the lawsuit.
Farm Bureau president Steve Appel, a Palouse wheat grower, said in a statement that incidents of warrantless searches were harming relations between state inspectors and farmers
"We have reached the point where we cannot continue to allow
these illegal and unconstitutional searches to continue unchallenged,"
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