June 24, 2024

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KJI appeals Covey Find Kennel 4th Amendment case

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The Kansas Justice Institute (KJI) is continuing to fight for a Cowley County dog trainer’s rights under the 4th Amendment, filing an appeal to the Tenth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals on behalf of Covey Find Kennel.

KJI is a subsidiary of the Kansas Policy Institute, as is The Sentinel.

Scott Johnson, an award-winning bird dog trainer and handler, enjoys running his business from the homestead he shares with his wife Harlene Hoyt in rural Cowley County.

The couple sued the Kansas Department of Agriculture and State Animal Health Commissioner Justin Smith over the state’s warrantless search regime for animal trainers.

In May the couple was dealt a blow when a federal judge 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.

KJI Litigation Director Samuel MacRoberts said that — while the May ruling allows warrantless searches to continue, the couple’s view remains the same.

“But 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 said. “We remain committed to fighting back against this overreach. Everyone has a right to be secure in their home.”

The background

In Kansas, Johnson is required to purchase a “training kennel license,” — at a cost of $200 a year.

Johnson started Covey Find Keneel decades ago to pursue a life-long career in training bird dogs. Around 1999, Johnson was told by state officials he was required to buy the licenses — despite operating without one for years — he had no other option, so he purchased the license.

The problem is that the license, and the Kansas Pet Animal Act, requires licensees to allow government officials to, without a warrant:

  • 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.

Moreover, government officials can make snap inspections with only 30 minutes notice and if licensees are unable to be at the property in time — and in rural Kansas it is easy to be more than 30 minutes from home just to go grocery shopping —  a $200 “no contact” fee is assessed to the business owner. Additionally, they can expect another “surprise” warrantless search and another $200 fine if the 30-minute deadline is not met. This issue is particularly burdensome for Ms. Hoyt, a clinic manager at a nearby hospital, who is required to leave work to meet inspectors if Johnson cannot meet the 30-minute deadline.

For years, Johnson tolerated the regime. Inspectors were flexible and would sometimes call ahead when they were in the area. If they did not call, and Johnson was either busy or unavailable, they would come back another time. Johnson believed he had the right to have the official come back later. Inspectors were able to provide advance notice of their searches. In 2018, the regime changed. The thirty-minute restriction and no-contact penalties were enacted, and inspectors cannot provide advance notice of their searches.

This, according to MacRoberts, is blatantly unconstitutional and in his filing said the district court erred at every level of its decision to dismiss.

“Kansans should not be forced to waive their constitutional rights in order to earn a living,” MacRoberts said. 


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