Big Win for Private Property Rights

( – In a massive victory for private property rights, the Tennessee Appeals Court has affirmed a lower court’s ruling stating that game wardens are prohibited from conducting warrantless searches of private property.

This affirmation was announced by the Institute for Justice, which represented the plaintiffs, landowners Terry Rainwaters and Hunter Hollingsworth, in their legal battle.

Rainwaters and Hollingsworth initiated legal action after officers from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) disregarded their clearly posted “No Trespassing” signs and trespassed onto their properties to install surveillance cameras.

“The victory applies broadly to all private land Tennesseans have put to ‘actual use,’ whether by fencing, farming, posting, gating, hunting, fishing, camping, or otherwise,” the Institute for Justice (IJ) explained.

“This decision is a massive win for property rights in Tennessee,” expressed Joshua Windham, an attorney for the Institute for Justice and the Elfie Gallun Fellow in Freedom and the Constitution.

“TWRA claimed unfettered power to put on full camouflage, invade people’s land, roam around as it pleases, take photos, record videos, sift through ponds, spy on people from behind bushes—all without consent, a warrant, or any meaningful limits on their power. This decision confirms that granting state officials unfettered power to invade private land is anathema to Tennesseans’ most basic constitutional rights,” he elaborated.

In the Court of Appeals, Judge Jeffrey Usman described the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s assertion as a concerning overreach of governmental power, starkly opposing the traditional American legal protections against arbitrary government intrusions, and highlighted specifically within Article I, Section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution.

Judge Usman further noted that the idea of less protection for rural residents compared to urban ones was baseless, stressing that the Tennessee Constitution does not discriminate against property uses typically found in rural settings.

“For as long as I can remember, these officers have acted like a law unto themselves. But nobody—not even a game warden—is above the Constitution, and yesterday’s decision makes that crystal clear. I’d like to thank the Institute for Justice for helping us fight this battle for so many years, and my local attorney Jack Leonard, who has been by my side on this case since day one,” declared Hollingsworth, emphasizing the historical overreach of the game wardens.

The case also touched upon the ancient federal “open fields” doctrine, which dates back to 1924, where the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not extend to open fields beyond the immediate surroundings of a home.

Contrary to this federal stance, the Tennessee Constitution, like several other state constitutions, protects “possessions” from “unreasonable searches.”

“The term’ possessions’ plainly covers private land, and it’s heartening to see the Court of Appeals reject the federal rule and reaffirm Tennesseans’ cherished right to be secure on that land,” the IJ said.

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