Courts & Crime

Supreme Court checks into case about hotel guest registry privacy

A Los Angeles-area motel owner’s efforts to keep guest registry information private will now be resolved by the Supreme Court.

In a dispute that bears close watching by hotel and motel operators nationwide, the court on Monday said it would consider a Los Angeles guest registry inspection ordinance. The provision requires hotels to maintain guest registries and to make those registries subject to police inspection.

A divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down the city’s statute, following a challenge by motel owner Naranjibhai Patel.

“In order for the city to comply with the Fourth Amendment, it must afford hotel operators an opportunity to challenge the reasonableness of the police officer’s inspection demand in court before penalties for non-compliance were imposed,” the Ninth Circuit’s summary noted.

In a parallel case, by contrast, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held there is no expectation of privacy in a motel guest registry. At least 70 similar statutes exist across cities and counties in 26 states.

The array of potentially affected municipalities that have guest registry inspection statutes, according to an appendix compiled by Los Angeles attorney range from Burlington, N.C., and Columbia, S.C., to Fresno, Calif., and San Antonio, Texas.

The city of Los Angeles sought review of the appellate court’s decision.

“These laws expressly help police investigate crimes such as prostitution and gambling, capture dangerous fugitives and even authorize federal law enforcement to examine these registers, an authorization which can be vital in the immediate aftermath of a homeland terrorist attack,” Los Angeles attorneys argued.