Kansas kennel’s constitutional challenge to periodic inspections thrown out

By: Edvard Pettersson



(CN) — The owner of a Kansas kennel for boarding and training bird dogs failed to persuade a federal judge that periodic, unannounced inspections of his home-based business amount to a violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable, warrantless searches.

Senior U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil on Friday dismissed all claims Scott Johnson, the owner of Covey Find Kennel, and his wife brought against the Kansas animal health commissioner last year.

The judge agreed with the state that, because boarding and training kennels are “pervasively regulated,” Kansas’s policy of warrantless inspections was reasonable and didn’t offend the Fourth Amendment.

“Maintaining dog training and boarding kennels is a pervasively regulated activity and has been the subject of federal and state regulation since at least 1976 and 1991 respectively,” Vratil said in her ruling. “In fact, Johnson has known for over 22 years that his business is subject to extensive regulation, including regular inspections.”

She also agreed that the state had established that unannounced, random inspections are a reasonable way for Kansas to verify that operators of boarding and training kennels comply with the law and that the animals are treated humane. These types of inspections, the judge said, ensure that kennel operators of boarding and training kennels can’t conceal violations of the Kansas Pet Animal Act ahead of a routine inspection.

Johnson, an award winning dog trainer and handler, said in his Oct. 21, 2022, complaint that the warrantless inspections of his kennel, which is part of the same homestead as his residence and his “shop,” invade his and his wife’s property and privacy rights and interests, the right to be secure, the right and ability to use and enjoy their land in peace, and the right to exclude unwanted persons.

According to Johnson, the kennel facilities are part of their home and must be afforded the same heightened privacy expectations as a private residence.

The judge, however, didn’t see it that way, pointing out that, like daycare providers, if Johnson and his wife maintained a boarding and training kennel at their home, state regulations that govern the operation and conditions of the kennel will be be different from those that apply to private residences.

“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,” Sam MacRoberts, litigation director of Kansas Justice Institute and Johnson’s attorney, said in a statement. “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.”

Under the Kansas Pet Animal Act, to get a license to operate kennel, the owner must consent to routine inspections. If the owner or a designated representative isn’t around within 30 minutes, they face a $200 fine. Johnson in his lawsuit also claimed that this amounted to an illegal restriction on his freedom to travel because he has only designated his wife as a representative to meet with state inspectors.

Again, the judge wasn’t persuaded and said that the designated representative mandate does not prohibit interstate travel or even severely restrict such travel.

“The Act does not limit the number of representatives plaintiffs may designate,” Vratil said. “Kan. Admin. Regs. § 9-18-9(3). “In fact, by permitting the designation of unlimited representatives, the regulation facilitates unfettered travel for licensees.”