Phillip Suderman · October 2, 2023

ARLINGTON, Va.Last week, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled against the Punxsutawney and Pitch Pine hunting clubs in their suit against Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and Mark Gritzer, the head of the PGC, for repeatedly violating their private property rights. The Institute for Justice (IJ) represents both clubs and plans to appeal. 

The PGC has systematically sent agents onto the land of these clubs without notice or warrants, treating private land like public property due to an arcane legal rule called the “open fields” doctrine, under which private land currently gets no constitutional protection from warrantless searches.  

In their challenge, IJ argued the Pennsylvania Constitution has unique text protecting private land from warrantless searches that should grant protections not just to these clubs but to all property owners across Pennsylvania. 

“Our position is clear and so is the Pennsylvania Constitution,” said IJ Attorney Joshua Windham. “We plan on continuing in this fight so that our clients and Pennsylvanians everywhere can have their constitutional rights restored.” 

Frank Stockdale, the president of the Punxsutawney club’s board, remains committed to the fight. 

“The government has no right to spy on us on our own land without cause,” he said. “This entire endeavor has been outrageous and needs to end now.”  

The Institute for Justice is the nation’s leading advocate for property rights. This case is part of IJ’s Project on the Fourth Amendment, which seeks to vindicate the right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures. IJ is currently litigating on behalf of property owners in Tennessee who had government cameras installed on their land, an Ohio taxidermist who was regularly subjected to warrantless inspections, and security deposit box owners whose boxes were raided by the FBI.  

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