ALBANY -- In a mixed decision, New York's top court ruled the state didn't need a warrant to put a tracking device on an employee's private car to determine whether he was skipping work, but said the investigation failed to comply with constitutional standards of a "reasonable search."
In sum, the Court of Appeals said disciplinary proceedings could continue against Michael Cunningham, a former state Labor Department employee in Albany, but it dismissed four charges that were based on evidence gathered by a global positioning system attached to his car. The court said state investigators' search was unreasonable because they did not make good efforts to avoid tracking Cunningham outside of business hours.
"While the search did not require a warrant, it did not comply with either the State or Federal Constitution unless it was a reasonable search," Judge Robert Smith wrote for the court. "We conclude that the state has failed to demonstrate that this search was reasonable."
Although all seven judges on the panel concurred with dismissing the GPS-based charges against Cunningham, three filed a separate opinion that a warrant was needed.
"No New York court has ever permitted government employers to search employees' personal cars without a warrant, and the majority creates a dangerous precedent by allowing them to do so now," Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam wrote for the minority.
Cunningham was fired in 2010 after a hearing officer concluded he claimed pay for hours when he wasn't working.