May 18, 2024

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Cowley County dog trainers lose first round of warrantless search ruling

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Award-winning bird dog trainer and handler Scott Johnson and his wife Harlene Hoyt were dealt a setback in federal court when a judge dismissed their civil and property rights lawsuit against the Kansas Department of Agriculture for the agency’s warrantless searches of their private property.

The couple sued State Animal Health Commissioner Justin Smith D. V. M. claiming his licensing requirements and warrantless searches of their property were unconstitutional.

The business owners’ $200 yearly license contains this provision:

“I understand that Kansas law permits that a licensee may have routine inspections and may be inspected upon complaint. I consent to the inspections by the Kansas Department of Agriculture. I understand inspections may be conducted outside my preferred hours Monday to Friday 7am to 7pm. I understand that any willful disregard of any provision of the Kansas Pet Animal Act or any regulations adopted thereunder may subject the licensee to suspension or revocation of the license and/or fine of up to $1,000 per violation and/or criminal penalties.”

Along with the license provision, Johnson and Hoyt objected to the Kansas Pet Animal Act, which allows state bureaucrats to:

  • Enter the licensee’s place of business.
  • Examine records required to be kept.
  • Make copies of records.
  • Inspect the premises and animals as the commissioner or the commissioner’s representatives consider necessary to enforce the provisions of the act and this article of the department’s regulations.
  • Document, by the taking of photographs and other means, any conditions and areas of noncompliance.
  • Use a room, table, or other facilities necessary for the examination of the records and inspection.

However,  the court sided with the Kansas Attorney General’s office which argued that an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, known as the pervasively regulated industry exception, applied to dog training and handling.

The couple is represented by the Kansas Justice Institute, part of the Kansas Policy Institute. KJI’s Litigation Director is Samuel MacRoberts:

“This ruling means that—at least for now—the government can continue to search rural homesteads without warrants if your job is to train hunting dogs.  But this is just the first step in a long process. Our view hasn’t changed—a person’s homestead is their castle, and the government shouldn’t be allowed to enter it without a warrant.”

MacRoberts countered that in the 2015 case of City of Los Angeles v. Patel, the Supreme Court rejected a similar argument that hotels counted as a pervasively regulated industry. The Court explained that the pervasively regulated industry exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement is “a narrow exception” that cannot be allowed to “swallow the rule” that the government must obtain a warrant before searching private property.

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