Law Review: The case of the sniffing dog of Quincy
This case involves a dog sniff of students at Quincy High School in Plumas County, Calif. Thus begins the opinion in a recent federal civil rights case.
B.C. was a student at Quincy High School. The principal and vice-principal told B.C. and his classmates to exit their classroom, and in doing so, the students passed “Keesha,” a drug-sniffing dog, stationed outside the classroom door. Keesha alerted to a student other than B.C.
The students waited outside the classroom while Keesha sniffed backpacks, jackets and other belongings which the students left in the classroom. When the students were allowed to return to the room they again walked past the dog. Keesha again alerted to the same student. That student was taken away and searched by school officials.
No drugs were found that day at Quincy High School. Must have been the oregano.
B.C. and his parents were not amused, so they sued, alleging numerous constitutional claims including unreasonable search and seizure. They also sued the sheriff’s deputies and school officials for money damages.
Was this a search? Was it unreasonable? Should B.C. get rich?
The trial court concluded that Quincy High School is not an entity capable of being sued for civil rights violations. B.C. did not appeal that ruling. He did appeal the trial court’s ruling that there was no unreasonable search and that all of the officials are immune for a suit for money damages.
The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court rulings, finding significant that the dogs were trained to sniff property not people – ignoring that Keesha sniffed B.C.
The court also ruled that “close proximity sniffing of the person is offensive whether the sniffer be canine or human.” (Tell me about it.) Keesha’s sniff infringed B.C.’s reasonable expectation of privacy and constituted a “search.” In the absence of a drug problem or crisis at Quincy High, the random and suspicious-less dog sniff of B.C., but not the smell of backpacks, was unreasonable. So far B.C. wins.
But, the sheriff’s officers and school officials were found to be immune because they acted as mere employees believing it was proper to conduct a dog sniff of students.
No money for B.C.
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