United States v. Golden Valley Electric

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 08-07-2012
  • Case #: 11-35195
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge W. Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Judges Goodwin and M. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

Compliance with a subpoena issued by an administrative agency does not render an appeal of the subpoena moot. However, the subpoena is valid if it is relevant to a current investigation, is not overly broad, is procedurally proper and does not violate the Fourth Amendment's reasonableness requirement.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) issued a subpoena to Golden Valley Electric Association (“Golden Valley”), ordering company records regarding electricity usage at three customer addresses. Golden Valley did not initially comply, and the DEA petitioned the district court for an order enforcing the subpoena. The district court granted the petition and Golden Valley complied, but also appealed the order. The Court determined Golden Valley’s compliance with the order did not render the appeal moot, because an appeal is moot only when a court cannot provide relief. Relief can be granted in cases like this one by ordering return of any documents obtained by an improper subpoena. The Court also held the DEA has authority to subpoena information relevant to an ongoing investigation, even if it is to help identify suspects. Contrary to Golden Valley’s arguments, the Court held that the subpoena was not overly broad, and was in fact directed at records concerning specific customers. Golden Valley also raised a Fourth Amendment claim, which the Court dismissed. Under the Fourth Amendment, a subpoena is enforceable unless it is unreasonable, which requires a showing that it is overbroad or unduly burdensome. The Court also noted probable cause is not required for a subpoena. Golden Valley contended it has a policy to protect the privacy of its customers. However, the Court found there was no agreement between Golden Valley and its customers to keep their electricity and payment information confidential. The Court ultimately held the appeal was not moot, but the subpoena remained valid. AFFIRMED.

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