Institute for Justice · April 30, 2020

Jeremy Barnes learned the hard way how Utah is unlike any other state. A former police officer turned entrepreneur, Jeremy started a private investigation business three minutes from the Utah border in rural Franklin, Idaho, part of the Logan metropolitan area. He did so planning to serve clients in both Idaho and Utah. In Idaho, he does not need a state license, but when he applied for a private investigator license in Utah, he was told not to bother, because he doesn’t live in Utah. But Jeremy lives in an area with few people, and needs to be able to legally serve clients throughout the Logan metropolitan area for his business to succeed. Unable to expand his business without access to an entire state just minutes away, Jeremy was forced to postpone his dream of working on his private investigation business full time.

Utah is the only state in the country with a residency requirement for private investigators, and if Jeremy lived in Utah, the licensing board would be required to give him a license because he meets all the requirements for licensure. But Jeremy isn’t giving up. He’s teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a federal lawsuit against the Utah Department of Public Safety, challenging the state’s protectionist unconstitutional residency requirement for violating the U.S. Constitution in three ways.
“Utah’s residency requirement for private investigators is blatantly unconstitutional,” IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes said. “States aren’t allowed to hoard jobs for their own citizens by walling off their economies from the rest of the country.”

Utah’s private investigator residency requirement violates the Constitution in three ways: the law violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating against nonresidents; it violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause by not offering the same privileges of state citizenship to nonresidents; and it violates the Commerce Clause by burdening interstate commerce by discriminating against nonresidents.

“I looked into it further and saw no other states but Utah did this. I guess I was more surprised than anything.” Jeremy said. “Given where I live, I have to work in Utah too to make my business work.”

Until 2011, when Utah overwhelmingly passed the residency requirement into law, Utah’s private investigator license requirements fell in line with every other state’s. What changed? The Private Investigators Association of Utah, the largest private investigator association in the state, stepped in to support this legislation. During committee hearings, Rep. Keith Grover said the requirement “prohibits less qualified out-of-state competitors from taking Utah jobs.” Rep. David Clark said at the same hearing what was obvious: that this was a “self-preservation bill.” In other words, this bill was protectionist, and became law because of special interests.

“Our country was founded on the idea that we’re one nation, a United States, and Utah’s law violates this basic American principle,” IJ Constitutional Law Fellow Richard M. Hoover said. “The Supreme Court has condemned this sort of economic protectionism for nearly 200 years.”

The Institute for Justice (IJ) is a nonprofit public interest law firm that fights for the right to earn an honest living. IJ is currently litigating lawsuits against protectionist laws in Minnesota, North Carolina and more.

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