Private security cases things to know

by John Bandler

Private Security Q&A

  • Does the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibit illegal searches or seizures by private parties?
    • No (is the simple and general answer). The Fourth Amendment only protects against improper government searches and seizures.
    • There are other laws (criminal and civil) that prohibit illegal searches and seizures by private parties.
  • What does the Fourth Amendment protect against?
    • The Fourth Amendment is a limit on the powers of government to search and seize. It protects against unreasonable search or seizure by the government.
  • If a person is searched or seized illegally by a private party, what is their remedy?
    • They can make a criminal complaint to law enforcement and/or sue civilly for damages.
  • What came first, private policing or public policing?
    • Private policing
  • Name some early private police in the US, and approximate dates
    • Wells Fargo, Pinkertons, Railway police, 1850-1900
  • What is the purpose of the licensing and regulation of security?
    • Create minimum standards to protect the public and consumers.
  • Who does this licensing and regulation?
    • Mostly each state. Federal gov’t can regulate for federal agencies, properties, regulated entities.
  • Why are case decisions important?
    • They establish law, precedent (stare decisis)
  • What concept describes the weight given to a prior decision by a court?
    • Legal precedent (stare decisis, authority)

Private Security assorted cases (Fourth Amendment involvement)

Burdeau v. McDowell, 256 U.S. 465 (1921)

Searches by private parties, even illegal searches, do not implicate the 4th Amendment, and suppression is not a remedy.

People v. Zelinksy, 24 Cal 3d 357 (Cal Sup Ct 1979)

Under California law, an illegal private search by a private entity, used in a criminal case, could be subject to suppression under the California Constitution.

Minnesota v. Buswell, 449 N.W.2d 471 (Minn. App. 1989) Ch 8 p.459.

Under Minnesota law, it is not enough just to say it was a private search to evade 4th Amendments scrutiny. The court must analyze whether there was government involvement.

Aetna Casualty v. Pendleton Detectives, 182 F.3d 376 (5th Cir. 1999), Ch 8 , 429.

(Merchants/Aetna/Pendleton, Pendleton allows theft)

Private security company can be liable for breach of contract and negligence.

Private Security assorted cases (no law enforcement involvement)

Letourneau v. Dept Registration, 571 N.E.2d 783 (Ill. Appellate Div, 1991).. Ch 8 p. 432.

(Sues to get PI license back)

Government decisions on licensing subject to review, potentially under standard of whether it was arbitrary, capricious, violated rule of law.

Austin v Paramount Parks, 195 F.3d 715 (4th Cir. 1999) Ch 8 p. 440.

(Criminal charges, suit for violating rights)

Lawsuit under 42 USC 1983 (color of state law) needs to show nexus to state law being misused. The nexus between public law enforcement and private security is relevant.

Whitehead v. USA-One, 595 So.2d 867 (Ala Supr.Ct. 1992) Ch 8 p. 450

(Burglaries/sex assaults in apartment complex)

Security company does not assume a duty in contract or in negligence merely by voluntarily agreeing to provide additional services.

Kelley v. Baker Protective Svcs, 401 S.E.2d 585 (Ga. App. 1991) Ch 8 p. 464.

(drug deal, buried a body)

It is not enough that the security company employee did something criminal or outrageous, the plaintiff must show negligence (or more) by the security company.

Leroy Ross v. Texas One, 796 S.W.2d 206 (Tx. App. 1990) Ch 8   466.

(Security guard shoots plaintiff)

Property owner escapes liability for actions of security guard, under the theory that the security guard and security company were independent contractors, liable for their own conduct.

Rivas v. Nationwide Security, 559 So. 2d 668 (Fl. App. 1990) Ch 8, p 474.

(Supermarket security strikes cashier)

Jury verdict should stand, it was a jury question as to whether employee's conduct was within the scope of employment and thus vicarious liability should attach to the employer.

NC Private Protective Svc Board v. Gray/Superior, 87 NC App 143 (NC Ct. App, 1987) p. 475

Discusses power of state regulator of security guards to impose a fine on a company for failing to register their security guards.

Appellate court finds the board decision and fine was reasonable and proper and within the law.


These are short Q&As and summaries cannot be expected to capture all nuances of all terms or decisions.

Purpose of this page

This page is a study aid for my students, and a place for me to draw quiz and assignment questions from. The goal is for students to learn important concepts, especially foundational concepts that provide footholds for learning more complex concepts.


This page is hosted at, copyright John Bandler, all rights reserved.

Posted 5/3/2023 based on years of teaching. Updated 11/14/2023