July 17, 2024

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Cowley County dog trainers win appeal; case on warrantless searches will proceed

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The Fourth Amendment lawsuit filed by award-winning bird dog trainers Scott Johnson and his wife, Harlene Hoyt of Cowley County, against the Kansas Department of Agriculture will continue after their successful appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, sitting in Denver; their case was initially dismissed by a federal district court in Kansas.

In October 2022, the Cowley County couple sued Dr. Justin Smith, the Agriculture Department’s animal health commissioner, claiming licensing requirements constituted a civil rights violation under the Fourteenth Amendment and an unlawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment for warrantless searches of their home and property.

Cowley County residents won their appeal
Scott Johnson and Harlene Hoyt

Their case was dismissed in May of 2023 as a district 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.

In announcing its decision to reverse the earlier dismissal the Court of Appeals declared:

(we) remand for further proceedings to determine whether Mr. Johnson’s business is closely regulated and, if so, whether warrantless inspections are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment (as applied to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment).

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.

Sam MacRoberts, Kansas Justice Institute Litigation Director

The Cowley County couple is represented, free of charge, by Kansas Justice Institute, which, like The Sentinel, is owned by the Kansas Policy Institute. Its litigation director, Sam MacRoberts, applauded the appeals court’s ruling:

“This is a significant victory. The ruling means we’re able to keep fighting back against the government’s warrantless searches.

 “It reinforces our view—which has never changed—that a person’s homestead is their castle, and the government shouldn’t be allowed to enter it without a warrant.“

MacRoberts added: “Scott and Harlene never wavered in the defense of their rights.”


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