Tom Manuel is a forester who owns timberland in East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. First and foremost, the land is part of his private forestry business/tree farm. Similar to most non-industrial, private forest owners, Tom also manages the property for wildlife conservation, recreation, and multiple other uses as well. 

When his kids were young, his family spent time on the property learning about tree farming, hunting, camping, and riding four-wheelers. Tom, an avid outdoorsman, also enjoys hunting on the land. And the land is marked accordingly: Boundaries are fenced and painted, entrances are gated and posted. It’s a private place—and Tom wants to keep it that way.

But Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) game wardens have other ideas in mind. Twice in December 2023, they entered Tom’s land without consent, a warrant, or probable cause and confronted first him and then his brother. They were interrogated but both were complying with hunting laws and neither was given a citation.

The game wardens think they have unlimited power to invade private land under an old Supreme Court rule called the “open fields doctrine.” The rule says that the U.S. Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures do not extend to land outside the immediate area around a home. But the wardens are ignoring that the Louisiana Constitution is different—it protects all “property” from warrantless searches.

James Madison wrote that “a man’s land … is called his property” and that “government is instituted to protect property of every sort.” But what was obvious to the Founding Fathers has been buried under poorly reasoned legal precedent.

To vindicate his property rights for himself and all other users of private property in Louisiana, Tom has partnered with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a suit in Louisiana state court that aims to put a stop to these warrantless intrusions once and for all.

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Joshua Windham

Attorney and Elfie Gallun Fellow in Freedom and the Constitution


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Owning and Cherishing Private Land

For millions of Americans, our private land is our sanctuary—a haven from the hustle and bustle of daily life—a private place we can make and call our own. Nobody knows that better than Tom Manuel. A forester by trade, Tom has made his living managing, cultivating, and protecting his clients’ land.

Tom treats his own land no differently. In 2003, he and his wife bought a large parcel in Ethel, Louisiana (about five miles from their home). When their two kids were young, they’d go out and take family walks, camp, and ride four-wheelers. Now that the kids are grown up, Tom and his wife take walks together and they manage timber for income. By carefully managing his forest, Tom attracts game that he, his family, and their guests enjoy hunting when time permits.

Like most people, Tom doesn’t want to be surveilled by government officials—or anyone else—on his own property. He views his land as a tree farm and a private refuge to spend time with family and friends, not a place to look over his shoulder for trespassers. And when he’s out hunting, he doesn’t want unknown people wandering his property near where he’s firing a gun. Unlike hunters, game wardens aren’t required to wear orange in the woods.

Because Tom doesn’t want intruders on his land, he’s taken several steps to mark it as private. There’s a barbed-wire fence and blue paint along the property lines (except a portion that follows a creek, which serves as a natural boundary). There are locked gates at the two entrances. And there’s a “no trespassing” sign behind the main gate—the one you’d use to access the property from a public road.

Tom wasn’t legally required to take these steps to exclude intruders. While many states require landowners to post fences, signs, or paint to preserve their privacy, Louisiana is more protective: Entering any private land without permission or other legal authority is a trespass.[1]

Louisiana Game Wardens’ Warrantless Intrusions

Despite all this, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries game wardens have a statewide policy and practice of entering private land without consent, a warrant, or probable cause in order to snoop around for hunting violations. As an official job description puts it, game wardens “are responsible for the patrol of public and private land and water.” Unfortunately, Tom has experienced these warrantless intrusions firsthand.

In December 2023, Tom twice found game wardens on his land without consent or a warrant. On December 6, he was out deer hunting. He didn’t shoot anything that day, so he walked back to his truck, which was parked past the front gate in a spot not visible from the road. When Tom returned to his truck, he found a game warden there waiting for him. The warden asked Tom to unload his gun, checked his license, and checked to see if Tom was wearing orange (even though the game warden was not). The warden left without issuing a citation—though not before Tom made clear that he does not consent to these kinds of intrusions.

It happened again on December 30. Tom got a call from his brother—who was hunting on the property with Tom’s permission—that game wardens were there. As with Tom, the wardens questioned his brother at his truck and left without issuing a citation. Tom drove to the property and was able to catch the wardens on their way out. He explained that they were on his land without permission and demanded to know why.

The game wardens responded that Tom’s land “is known hunting property.” (Hunting, for context, is a constitutionally protected right in Louisiana.[2]) Tom noted they didn’t have “any probable cause” to enter. They told him to take it up with their captain. Tom asked if they were trained to walk through people’s private gates. They replied. “Yes sir.” Tom advised them, “You’re not within your rights to be on my land.” They again told him to take it up with their captain.

The Open Fields Doctrine: A Blank Check to Intrude

None of this sits well with Tom. He isn’t asking for much, just that game wardens seek his consent or obtain a warrant if they want to search his land—the way they’d do with any other constitutionally protected property. But due to a century-old legal rule called the “open fields doctrine,” game wardens think they deserve unlimited power to invade Tom’s land.

In Hester v. United States (1924), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the federal Fourth Amendment—which protects “persons, houses, papers, and effects”—does not secure private land from warrantless searches. And in Oliver v. United States (1984), the high court reaffirmed that rule, adding that nobody can reasonably expect “privacy” on their land.

Based on this doctrine, state officials across the country treat private land like public property. Game wardens in Tennessee and Pennsylvania, for example, use the doctrine to place cameras on private land without a warrant. Game wardens in Virginia use it not only to place cameras, but to take cameras from private land. All of this despite evidence that hunting laws can be effectively enforced in states that have rejected the open fields doctrine. Just drive twenty minutes up the road from Tom’s land to neighboring Mississippi: Mississippi’s Supreme Court rejected the open-fields doctrine over a hundred years ago[3] and wildlife is thriving.

Nor is the problem limited to game wardens. Officials across the spectrum—from police officers, to environmental inspectors, to code enforcement officers, to immigration officials—use the open fields doctrine to invade private land across the country every day. That’s not how law enforcement is supposed to work. Both the state and federal constitutions are clear: to conduct a search, get a warrant.

But even if the federal open fields doctrine is correct—and there are good reasons to think it isn’t[4]—the Fourth Amendment is not the only game in town. Every state has a constitution that restricts government searches in its own unique way. Louisiana is a great example: Article I, Section 5 of the Louisiana Constitution forbids unreasonable searches of all “property,” plus all “invasions of privacy” more broadly. To state the obvious, Tom’s land is property, and snooping around that land—which he’s cherished and cultivated for decades—is an invasion of privacy.

The Legal Claim

In Louisiana, private land deserves just as much protection from warrantless searches as other property. Article I, Section 5 of the Louisiana Constitution makes that clear as day: All “property” must be secured from “unreasonable searches . . . or invasions of privacy.” Tom’s land is no exception.

LDWF disagrees. It treats Tom’s land—and all private land in Louisiana—like public property. Because that violates the plain text and purpose of the Louisiana Constitution, Tom’s lawsuit asks the courts to strike down LDWF’s policy and practice of warrantless intrusions so that landowners can finally enjoy the security they deserve.

The Litigation Team

Tom Manuel is represented by Institute for Justice attorneys James Knight and Josh Windham.

The Institute for Justice

The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm that defends property rights nationwide. This case is part of IJ’s Project on the Fourth Amendment, which seeks to protect the right of Americans to be secure in their persons and property. In addition to this case, IJ is currently challenging the open fields doctrine on behalf of landowners in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

[1] La. Stat. Ann. § 14:63(B)(1).

[2] See La. Const. art. I, § 27.

[3] See, e.g., Falkner v. State, 98 So. 691 (Miss. 1924).

[4] Elizabeth Kingston, Keeping Up With Jones: The Need to Abandon the Open Fields Doctrine, 52 Crim. L. Bulletin 1355, 1392 (2016) (calling for abandonment of the doctrine and explaining that the Court’s “claim that land outside the curtilage is wholly unprotected by the Fourth Amendment is illogical considering existing case law”); Sherry Colb, What Is a Search? Two Conceptual Flaws in Fourth Amendment Doctrine and Some Hints of a Remedy, 55 Stan. L. Rev. 119, 129-31 (2002) (criticizing the doctrine because “it is almost certainly not the case that everyone feels free to violate the law against trespass,” and because it “permits police to engage in what is criminal misconduct on the theory that they could have made the same observations by a legal, alternative means”); Stephen Saltzburg, Another Victim of Illegal Narcotics: The Fourth Amendment (As Illustrated by the Open Fields Doctrine), 48 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 1, 21-22 (1986) (calling the doctrine “indefensible as a matter of precedent, history and common sense” and “a severe threat to liberty”).