DBTC Law Firm

“How was your day at the office, honey?” “Don’t ask, you won’t believe it!”

The awesome sweep of federal law enforcement authority is often depicted dramatically in the movies. However, real life experiences demonstrate the overpowering reality of law enforcement when it intersects with the lives of ordinary citizens. Such was the seizure of the Mountain Pure water bottling facility in central Arkansas on January 18, 2012. This “wild west” story is an interesting interpretation of constitutional rights.

The Small Business Administration (“SBA”) and Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) suspected that John Stacks, owner of Mountain Pure, LLC, and its 100,000 square-foot bottling facility in central Arkansas, had committed fraud in applying for disaster relief after a tornado allegedly damaged company property. So, on January 18, 2012, at 8:45 a.m., 35 federal and state law enforcement agents armed with search warrants arrived without prior notice at the plant with their sirens sounding and lights flashing. The agents wore ballistic vests, each carrying loaded handguns and secondary weapons. Upon their entry of the building, employees were pushed against a wall, threatened with pistols, gathered into the break room, had their cell phones confiscated, were detained there for the balance of the day with outside contact forbidden, and subjected to interrogation, while the 100,000 square-foot plant was scoured for evidence of the suspected fraud. It was a scared, unhappy, perplexed bunch of employees who were finally released to go home eight hours later at the end of their “work day.”

Some of the astonished and upset employees, believing their constitutional rights had been offended by these dramatic actions, sued. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, as affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, ruled that these actions were reasonable under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution, did not violate the employees’ constitutional rights regarding search, seizure or interrogation, and thus gave no rise to any legal relief. Just another day at the office. Mountain Pure v. Cynthia Roberts, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, #15-1656, February 25, 2016.

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