Kennel owners win appeal in civil rights lawsuit

By: David A. Seaton



A Winfield dog trainer who sued state officials over the state’s kennel inspection practices won an appeal in the federal case to have the lawsuit reinstated.

Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Scott Johnson and his wife, Harlene Hoyt, owners of Covey Find Kennel, in a decision issued on Monday.

U.S. District Court senior Judge Kathryn Vratil last  year agreed with the Kansas attorney general’s office that the Kansas Pet Animal Act does not violate the Fourth Amendment protection against searches without a warrant. She dismissed the lawsuit. Johnson and Hoyt appealed. The business is about five miles east of Winfield along U.S. Highway 160.

In her decision, Vratil determined that the government can conduct unannounced and warrantless inspections of training and boarding kennels because they are a business subject to extensive regulation.

The court of appeals, though, concluded that surprise inspections may not be required to find violations, especially severe ones such as mistreated animal.

“The necessity of warrantless searches is not apparent from the face of the Kansas regulations,” it wrote. “To begin with, we note that a number of violations would be very difficult to quickly correct or conceal.”

Even a  surprise inspection might not catch requirements such as that dogs be fed daily and not be tethered for more than two hours at a time or more than four hours total per day, the court added.

The civil rights case was filed in October of 2022 by the Kansas Justice Institute alleging that state inspections under the 2018 Kansas Pet Animal Act violated constitutional rights to not be subjected to warrantless searches of property.

“This is a significant victory. The ruling means we’re able to keep fighting back against the government’s warrantless searches,” said Sam MacRoberts, litigation director for the institute. “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. Scott and Harlene never wavered in the defense of their rights.”

The appeals court did rule against plaintiffs in their claim that the Act also violates their right to intrastate travel — moving within the state The Act imposed a $200 fine when a representative of a kennel facility fails to be present within 30 minutes of a state regulator’s arrival for unannounced inspections.

The court found that the regulation is not any more burdensome than for other businesses whose owners travel. Johnson prefers not to appoint a representative other than his spouse to allow government inspections. “There is nothing special about the resulting burden on his interest in traveling,” the court wrote.

Also, the fundamental right to freedom of movement only applies to interstate travel — moving between states — the decision added, not intrastate travel, or movement within a state.