U.S. v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc.: Ninth Circuit Holds that the Government only has a Right to Specific Names in Search Warrant

Sep 20, 2010

The Ninth Circuit Court affirmed in part and dismissed in part a ruling by the district court on Monday, September 13th. The Ninth Circuit held that the government had no right to retain seized drug-test results of professional athletes other than those specified in a search warrant.

The Major League Baseball Players Association (“players”) and Major League Baseball came to an agreement on anonymous and suspicion-less urine sample drug testing of all players. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc. (CDT) an independent company, administered the sample tests for the members of the players. The results of the tests were maintained by CDT with the lists of players and their respective results and the company that actually performed the testing, Quest Diagnostics, Inc., kept the testing samples.

The government investigated the Bay Area Lab Cooperative (Balco), which it suspected of providing steroids to players and learned that ten players had tested positive in the CDT program. The government secured a grand jury subpoena in the Norther District of California that sought the drug-testing records as well as the specimens pertaining to Major League Baseball in CDT’s possession. CDT and the players moved to quash the subpoena. The government next obtained a warrant in the Central District of California that authorized a search of CDT’s facilities in Long Beach, California. This warrant was limited to records of the ten players for whom there was probable cause but the government seized and reviewed the records for hundreds of players in the Major League Baseball as well as those of many other individuals. The government also obtained a warrant from the District of Nevada for the urine samples from Quest’s facilities. Finally, the government served CDT and Quest with a new subpoena in the Northern District for production of the same records it had just seized.

In response to the government’s actions CDT and the players moved in the Central District under Fed. R. Crim. Proc., Rule 41(g), for return of property that had been seized there. Judge Cooper of the Central District ordered the property be returned, finding that the government did not follow the procedures specified in the warrant (“Cooper Order”). CDT and the players also moved in Nevada under Rule 41(g) for a return of property seized under warrants there. Judge Mahan of Nevada district court ordered the government to return the property it had seized except for those materials that pertained to the ten identified players (“Mahan Order”). Finally, CDT and the players moved under Rule 17(c) in the Northern District to quash the most recent subpoenas. Judge Illston of the Northern district granted the motion (“Illston Quashal”).

The government appealed the orders. The appellate panel reversed the Mahan Order and Judge Illston’s order, but found that the appeal from the Cooper order was untimely. The appelate court took the case en banc.

The court of appeals affirmed in part and dismissed in part, holding that the government had no independent basis to keep the seized drug-test results.The Court agreed with the appellate panel, dismissing the government’s appeal of the Cooper Order. The Court noted, however, that the government was bound by the factual determinations and issues resolved against it by the final Cooper Order. Those included failure to comply with the conditions of the warrant that were designed to segregate information as to which the government had probable cause from that which it did not.

This case is: United States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc.; 9th Cir.; September 13, 2010; 05-10067