Suit Over Random Search Rejected as City Cites Security

LAW by Amanda Bronstad

Talk about bad timing. A San Francisco attorney's $1 million lawsuit against the city of L.A. and United Airlines Inc. in which he claimed to have been unlawfully searched at random at a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport in 1998 has been dismissed.

Hugo Torbet sued in August 1999, claiming security personnel at a United Airlines security checkpoint violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they searched his bags, even after they had already cleared the metal detector.

Attorneys on both sides said changes in security measures since Sept. 11 affected the court's ruling, which was published on Aug. 7.

Doug Knoll, the attorney for LAX operator L.A. World Airports, said the ruling dismissed the first case in the country challenging the constitutionality of random searches, which have become much more frequent and contested since Sept. 11.

"There are more random searches conducted more frequently since Sept. 11," Knoll said. "That's why the court published this opinion: To make it clear that there's nothing in the constitution that prohibits random searches."

U.S. District Judge Jerome Farris ruled the search constitutional since Torbet gave his implied consent by placing his bag on the X-ray belt.

Vincent Chan, the attorney representing Torbet, said the ruling opens a "can of worms" that encourages violation of privacy rights.

The ruling "gives the blueprint for officers to do whatever they please," said Chan, who plans to petition the court within the next few weeks to re-hear the case.

Rodeo Wrangling

A retailer specializing in women's clothing failed to convince an appellate court that its former landlord fraudulently misrepresented the amount of foot traffic on Rodeo Drive, where the retailer was located.

Saint-Tropez Stores Inc., owned by husband and wife Herve and Solange Caen, was located on Rodeo Drive between June 1999 and February 2000. The retailer, which sold $150 knit tops and embroidered jeans, was forced to close after losing $300,000 on the shop, said Dalila Kamal-Griffin, the Santa Monica attorney representing the Caens.

"The tenant was induced to sign the lease with Rodeo Collection, with representations that a major New York-based store would open next to it and a restaurant would open too," Kamal-Griffin said. "These facts were very important in terms of foot traffic. As it happened, the big store never opened and the restaurant opened eight months later than scheduled. And foot traffic was affected."

St. Tropez sued the landlord, Rodeo Collection, in April 2000. A trial court ruled in favor of Rodeo Collection and on Aug. 7, L.A. Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins affirmed the ruling in the Second Appellate District.

Calls to Rodeo Collection's law firm, Cochran & Longaker, were not returned.

Kamal-Griffin said the Caens have no plans to challenge the appellate ruling.



Staff reporter Amanda Bronstad can be reached at (323) 549-5225 ext. 225, or at abronstad@labusinessjournal.com .

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