Drones and property rights

As recreational drone use expands, hobbyists won’t be the only ones who are flying them. Reports suggest that law enforcement officials are considering adding drones to their tool kit. According to these reports, drones will give law enforcement a bird’s-eye view of major car crashes, active wildfires, and wreckage created by tornadoes and hurricanes.

But might the use of drones in other contexts violate the Fourth Amendment? Law enforcement’s use of drones to examine real property would implicate the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. It is important to determine whether the use of drones is a “search” within the meaning of DronesTeaserthe Fourth Amendment. If the use of drones results in a “search,” then the government needs to acquire a warrant to examine someone’s property. The use of drones to examine someone’s property will be a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment if: (1) the property owner shows a subjective expectation of privacy in the area examined, and (2) if society views that expectation of privacy as reasonable.

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President’s weekly report, April 29, 2016

Seattle trashed! 

We had  this resounding trial court victory in Bonesteel v. City of Seattle, our challenge to Seattle’s trash-snooping law. In a city where political correctness trumps individual rights, the city passed an ordinance that not only requires Seattlelites to compost their food waste, but required its trash collectors to inspect trash cans for excess food waste, with the threat of shaming notices and fines for noncompliance. The problem here is that the Washington State Constitution’s right to privacy doesn’t allow this — according to well-established state Supreme Court precedent. You can read more here.

Victory at Tahoe! Image result for lake tahoe ski victory olympics 1960

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency agreed to settle our lawsuit on behalf of Ray and Teresa Avila-Burns. That’s the case where the agency refused to let the Burns rebuild a home on the site of a home that burned down in the Angora fire. For more, see our blog post here.

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Can government discriminate against a church, just because it is a church?

Does the exclusion of churches from an otherwise neutral and secular aid program violate the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution? That is the question the Supreme Court will answer in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley.

Trinity Lutheran Church operates a daycare which includes a playground used by both students and members of the surrounding community.  Trinity applied for a grant, offered to nonprofit organizations by the State of Missouri, which would allow it to replace the rock surface of the playground with a safer rubber surface made from recycled tires. Trinity’s application was denied.  Why?  Because it is a church. Continue reading

Judge suggests Martin County Commission refused to follow law

ineptitudeYesterday, the trial court in Martin County, Florida, let the infamous, anti-property-rights Martin County Commission members know that they can’t hide public emails behind private email addresses and think they will get away with it. One of those commission members—a former judge, of all things—failed to turn over emails regarding public matters to a property owner who requested them. The commissioner held the emails for years without turning them over, despite a legal requirement to do so.

The local court skewered the Martin County Commission in its order on the matter. The court’s words are more damning than anything PLF could write:

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PLF attorney Wen Fa talks agricultural issues on Andy Caldwell

Please tune in at 4:30 p.m. (PDT) this afternoon to hear Andy Caldwell and me discuss two current lawsuits with huge ramifications for agricultural businesses and the rule of law.


PLF clients win in settlement with Tahoe agency

PLF clients Ray Burns and Teresa Avila-Burns just wanted to build a small house on their vacant lot in South Lake Tahoe so that their elderly mothers could enjoy the high quality of life in the Lake Tahoe area. But the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) said the parcel the Burns had purchased was entirely inside a Stream Environment Zone, preventing El Dorado County from issuing a building permit. The Burns were unable to build even though their parcel had a home on it for three decades before it was destroyed in the Angora fire in 2007.

After having little success negotiating with TRPA for permission to build their new home, Ray and Teresa contacted PLF. We sued TRPA in federal court on their behalf, arguing that the agency cannot take away all use of property without paying the owners just compensation. As we said in our complaint, governments can set aside private property as open space, but the Fifth Amendment requires that they compensate the owners. This important principle ensures that property owners do not pay disproportionately for public benefits.

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Second Circuit extends New York’s 154-year-old streak of discrimination against out-of-state lawyers

Last Friday, the Second Circuit upheld a longstanding New York requirement that out-of-state attorneys must maintain a physical office in the state to practice New York law–a requirement not imposed on attorneys who reside within the Empire state. Continue reading

Victory: Judge throws out garbage snooping law

Today, Judge Beth Andrus ruled that Seattle cannot hunt through its residents’ garbage in search of prohibited food waste. Our lawsuit, Bonesteel v. City of Seattle, challenged a Seattle law that says garbage collectors must search through trash cans along their routes each week to determine whether more than ten percent of the volume of your garbage contains food waste or recyclables. We relied on Washington’s right to privacy, which ensures that “no person shall be disturbed in his private affairs” without a warrant. The judge agreed that the garbage can contains private information about our lives that deserve protection from prying eyes. If Seattle wants to rifle through your trash, it’ll now need a warrant. You can read the judge’s opinion here.

New data on occupational licensing confirms existence of rent-seeking incentives

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released new data that shows workers with an occupational license or certification tend to earn higher wages than those without a license or certification. That shouldn’t be all that surprising since one of the main, stated purposes of getting a license is for those workers to have greater qualifications and expertise than those without a license–so it makes sense that licensed workers earn more than unlicensed workers. What makes this data interesting and useful, though, is that it highlights why there’s been a steady increase in the number of professions licensed, and it helps explain why it is so difficult to have licensing requirements removed or lessened. Continue reading

The crime of charging customers too little in Florida

Do we really need laws that prohibit entrepreneurs from charging consumers too little?

PLF’s economic liberty project challenges so-called “minimum price” laws that do just that. These laws are rich examples of cronyism and, unfortunately, a Florida state appellate court decision upheld one this week. PLF had filed an amicus brief urging the court to overturn the law.

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission makes it illegal for licensed limo and sedan drivers to charge less than $50 for any ride, no matter how short the distance. Lots of limo and sedan drivers would like to compete on price with taxis for short trips if they could. But if a driver wanted to charge a fixed price of $20 to shuttle people to the airport from nearby locations, both he and his willing customer are out of luck—he must charge $50, which is far more than a comparable taxi ride. And that’s precisely why the rule exists: it is aimed at keeping the taxi companies that lobby for the rules insulated from competition from independent transportation entrepreneurs.

This is raw economic favoritism of one class of companies over another by the politicians who enacted the rule. A case challenging the regulation was filed by our friends at the Institute for Justice on behalf of a small limo operator and his customers.

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