Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
NO TRESPASSING ALLOWED
In a hotel room, a guest has the same right to privacy as he
does in his own home
Q: At a recent meeting, I helped distribute the
nightly pillow gifts. In one attendee’s room, I noticed drug
paraphernalia. Should I have called the police? Alerted hotel
A: In a word or two: Ignore it. A hotel guest
has the expectation that she will have privacy and peaceful
possession of the room. The hotel cannot allow unauthorized third
parties to gain access to the guest’s room.
Under case law, the courts have recognized four reasons a hotel
employee can enter a guest’s room.For normal maintenance, including housekeeping and to conduct
repairsIn the presence of imminent dangerWhen the guest has not paid for the room (for instance, his
credit card is denied)When the hotel employee knocks and the guest gives permission
In addition, I suggest there is a right of access to distribute
pillow gifts and the like if done by hotel personnel. This access,
however, does not extend to the meeting planner.
In one classic case of not allowing access, a Louisiana Court of
Appeals held that a motel was not liable for damages when it
refused to allow the spouse of a guest to enter the room because
she was not considered a registered guest. She went to the front
desk to request a key for her husband’s room and was denied access
by the hotel room clerk.
The wife’s lawsuit asked for damages for embarrassment and
mental anguish. The trial court granted the motel’s motion to
dismiss the lawsuit, holding, “The hotel had an affirmative duty,
stemming from the guest’s right of privacy and peaceful possession,
not to allow unregistered and unauthorized third parties to gain
access to the rooms of its guests.”
In cases involving alleged criminal activity, and most
particularly a search of the room, the courts have held that police
have no right to unlimited access. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled
that hotel guests are entitled to the constitutional protection
against unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed by the Fourth
Amendment. The police would have to get a search warrant.
Also, a meeting professional helping with the distribution of
pillow gifts could be considered a trespasser because the guest has
not invited the planner into the room.
In our reader’s circumstance, a claim of false arrest could have
arisen if she had told the police about the drug paraphernalia and
the guest subsequently was apprehended. A police officer might not
be conducting a proper search and arrest if the information about
the illegal activity came from someone who had no authorization to
enter the room.
Let’s take a look at the situation here.
- The planner, who has no authorization to do so, enters the room
of a guest.
- The planner believes she sees drug implements. The items also
could be syringes for a diabetic or someone who otherwise requires
some form of injection. Bags of white powder could be sugar for
coffee or many other things. The meeting professional is not
trained to make these determinations.
- Had police undertaken a warrantless search based on the
planner’s word, there is no question any such evidence would be
thrown out of court. Additionally, the planner’s actions could lead
to liability for her and possibly for the meeting sponsor.
Further, if a planner is given a master key by the hotel, she
definitely is in a trespass situation, and the hotel, sponsor and
planner could face serious legal repercussions.
In other words, keep out.Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.,
is a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm
of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel
and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at email@example.com.
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