J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · March 14, 2024

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Rita Lin issued a preliminary injunction preventing the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services from enforcing its licensing requirement on anti-spam entrepreneur Jay Fink. The order allows Jay to get back in business while his lawsuit, which was filed with the help of the Institute for Justice, proceeds.

“This is a great victory for Jay and his right to earn an honest living,” said Andrew Ward, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents Jay. “The state has no business requiring him to get licensed as a private detective for something as simple as reviewing spam emails.”

California makes it illegal to send certain kinds of spam, but to fight it, recipients have to do a lot of work to identify, index, and prepare the messages they want to challenge in court. That’s where Jay’s company comes in; they read their clients’ junk mail, flag the messages that might violate the law, and compile them into reports. As a result of Jay’s work, hundreds of Californians have gotten redress for gummed-up inboxes.

But last summer, after working for more than a decade, Jay was shut down by a bureau analyst who determined that he was acting as an unlicensed private investigator. The analyst said that, since Jay’s work was related to eventual lawsuits, Jay and his team were required to have licenses. 

To obtain a license in California, Jay—who is 67 years-old—would have to spend 6,000 hours apprenticing in a field like law enforcement, investigative journalism, or arson investigation. Then, only after passing a test and paying a fee could he get back in business.

In her order issuing the preliminary injunction, Judge Lin wrote that there was no rational basis for regulating Jay as a private investigator. She wrote that Jay “has shown a gross mismatch between the highly burdensome requirements of the licensing regime, which require him to undertake 6,000 hours of largely unrelated training, and the State’s marginal interest in regulating his review of his clients’ ‘junk’ emails, which are highly unlikely to be sensitive.”

“Judge Lin recognized that Jay’s work does not implicate any privacy or security concerns that could justify the licensing requirement,” said Dylan Moore, an attorney at the Institute for Justice. “Forcing him to undergo thousands of hours of irrelevant training would serve no purpose other than to shut him down.”

With the injunction in place, Jay can get back to work while the Institute for Justice continues to litigate his case. 

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