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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Dow Chemical Co.
United States
(on behalf of the Petitioner)
(on behalf of the Respondent)
Location: Dow Chemical
Facts of the Case 

Dow Chemical Company denied the Environmental Protection Agency a follow-up on-site inspection of its facilities in Midland, Michigan. In response, EPA conducted an unannounced aerial inspection. When Dow became aware EPA had taken aerial photographs of its facilities, it filed suit in District Court alleging that EPA conducted a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The District Court ruled that the aerial inspection violated Dow's "expectation of privacy" from searches. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the ruling on the ground that Dow only expected pivacy with respect to its indoor property.


Does the Fourth Amendment require government inspectors to obtain warrants before conducting aerial searches of outdoor business facilities?

Decision: 5 votes for United States, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 4: Fourth Amendment

No. Justice Warren Burger delivered the opinion for a 5-4 court. The Court maintained that the EPA's statutory jurisdiction "carries with it all the modes of inquiry and investigation traditionally employed or useful to execute the authority granted." Fourth Amendment protection involves the invasion of areas where intimate activities occur, whereas "the open areas of an industrial complex are more comparable to an 'open field' in which an individual may not legitimately demand privacy." The fact that EPA could take aerial photographs of the facilities from public airspace with the standard photographic equipment employed by mapmakers confirmed that the area was not subject to strict protection from observation.

Cite this Page
DOW CHEMICAL CO. v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <>.
DOW CHEMICAL CO. v. UNITED STATES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 25, 2015).
"DOW CHEMICAL CO. v. UNITED STATES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015,