COLUMBUS, Ohio—Ohio taxidermist and deer processor Jeremy Bennett dismissed his federal lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) after the agency removed its regulation allowing warrantless business inspections. ODNR also compensated Jeremy for his troubles—namely, a 2021 prosecution for allegedly “refusing” a warrantless inspection of his shop. Jeremy launched his lawsuit last year with the Institute for Justice (IJ), a non-profit public interest law firm that protects property rights nationwide.
“People don’t lose their Fourth Amendment right when they open a business,” said IJ Attorney Joshua Windham. “Before we filed this case, ODNR’s regulation gave state game wardens virtually unlimited power to enter people’s private shops—without consent or a warrant—and spend hours snooping around. That regulation squarely violated the Fourth Amendment, and we’re delighted that Ohio has abandoned it.”
During peak hunting season, Jeremy closes the taxidermy part of his shop and works solely on deer processing. After inspecting Jeremy’s deer processing area for an hour in December 2020, a game warden asked to enter the closed taxidermy area. Jeremy asked him to return in a few weeks when he had resumed working on taxidermy, and the officer left without objecting. But a few months later, Jeremy was criminally prosecuted and threatened with jail time for “refusing” a warrantless inspection of his taxidermy shop.
Jeremy knew it was wrong for the state of Ohio to prosecute him, but fighting the charge would have been costly. He ultimately agreed to plead no contest and pay a fine of $150. Jeremy’s lawsuit with IJ did not include a claim for damages, but the state nevertheless compensated him $5,000—a rough equivalent of the legal fees Jeremy incurred while defending himself from the bogus prosecution.
“I’m glad that I was able to make changes that apply to every Ohio business required to keep records by ODNR, not just my own,” said Jeremy. “For too long, Ohio taxidermists and deer processors have been subject to search at any time. But the new regulation requires these officers to seek our consent or get a warrant before entering—which means our constitutional rights as private property owners are respected. Accomplishing this for everyone is a tremendous feeling.”
In January, ODNR issued a formal directive requiring its wildlife officers to obtain consent or a warrant before searching taxidermy and deer-processing shops. Not long after, ODNR amended its warrantless inspection regulation to formally codify the agency’s ban on involuntary warrantless inspections. The new regulation went into effect on May 1, 2022 and protects taxidermists and deer processors statewide.
“The Institute for Justice and Jeremy have brought Ohio’s ‘anywhere, anytime’ inspections to an end for the state’s taxidermists and deer processors—but too many innocuous businesses still suffer from intrusive, warrantless searches and seizures,” said IJ Senior Attorney Robert Frommer, who directs IJ’s Project on the Fourth Amendment. “We will keep pushing back against rogue government agencies that try to force entrepreneurs to give up their right to be secure simply to operate their business.”
The Institute for Justice is a non-profit public interest law firm that protects property rights nationwide. This case was part of IJ’s Project on the Fourth Amendment, which strives to protect one of America’s foundational property rights: The right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures. IJ also has a long history of protecting rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment and similar state constitutional amendments. IJ is defending security deposit box owners whose boxes were seized by the FBI, renters subject to warrantless home inspections, and property owners who had government cameras installed on their land.