49ers win right to pat down fans for security reasons

Updated: July 17, 2007, 9:07 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- A state appeals court said Tuesday that the San Francisco 49ers may pat down fans before they enter Monster Park.

Two season-ticket holders sued the team for invasion of privacy in 2005 after the 49ers instituted the policy that season as part of the NFL's anti-terrorism security efforts.

The California Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, said that Daniel and Kathleen Sheehan waived their privacy concerns because they knew of the pat-down searches before they bought their tickets for the 2006-07 season. They sued in December 2005 after experiencing pat-down searches that season.

The court said the couple could quit going to games if they were offended by the searches.

"By voluntarily re-upping for the next season under these circumstances, rather than opting to avoid the intrusion by not attending the games at Monster Park, the Sheehans impliedly consented to the pat-downs," Justice Timothy Reardon wrote for the majority, adding that the "Sheehans have no reasonable expectation of privacy."

Justice Maria Rivera dissented, arguing that her colleagues too easily tossed aside the Sheehans' privacy concerns.

"The courts' role in protecting privacy rights should not be so readily abdicated," Rivera wrote, noting that the Sheehans have no other way to watch the team in person. "If you are the only game in town, requiring your customers to either submit to a pat-down search or walk away does not present the kind of genuine choice upon which the majority's reasoning is premised."

Niners spokeswoman Lisa Lang noted that the search was limited to fans' packages and their mid-torsos.

"We believe that this ruling upholds our policy to protect our fans," Lang said Tuesday.

ACLU lawyers, who helped the Sheehans with their lawsuit, and a 49ers spokeswoman didn't immediately return calls for comment.

A federal appeals court in Florida and a federal district court judge in Seattle each ruled similarly in upholding pat-down searches at Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks home games.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press