Tenn. Hunter’s Unlawful Search Suit Dismissed

(CN) – A federal judge tossed a Tennessee hunter’s lawsuit against a state wildlife agency, ruling that surveillance of his farms was legal.
     William “Spook” Spann sued Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency officials and his former cameraman, Thomas Southerland, last summer. Spann, host of the Pursuit Channel hunting show “Spook Nation,” claims the TWRA was a “rogue agency” that spent countless hours “terrorizing his family,” according to his lawsuit.
     Spann allegedly killed a trophy buck in Kansas in 2007 and it was featured in two hunting magazines. He claims that the TWRA questioned Southerland in order to get footage of the buck. Officers seized the buck rack from Spann’s house in 2011 and charged him with hunting with the wrong license and illegally transporting the buck from Kansas to his primary residence in Tennessee.
     He pleaded guilty in 2013 to a reduced misdemeanor for unlawful transportation of the illegally hunted buck and was prohibited from hunting anywhere in the country for six months as part of his probation.
     The hunting show host claims Southerland quit working for him in 2013 to go undercover for the TWRA, which allegedly proceeded to set up several cameras on three of Spann’s farms. A Kansas federal court found that he had violated his probation after cameras captured him dressed in camouflage “accompanying other hunters and participating to a degree that constituted ‘hunting,'” the ruling states.
     Spann alleges “constant and unreasonable surveillance” by the TWRA, including agents seen on streets near his home. However, U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp granted TWRA’s motion to dismiss July 17, ruling that Spann has not shown a violation of his rights.
     “The amended complaint offers only vague invocations of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, leaving the court to fully articulate each amendment’s protections and apply them to the corresponding facts,” the judge wrote. “Despite the court’s efforts to elucidate the specifics of these claims, the facts alleged, even when viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, fail to show plaintiff has been deprived of a constitutional right.”
     Sharp wrote that Spann makes only passing references to alleged Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment violations and the judge treated his claim as a Fourth Amendment allegation because it is based on an allegedly unreasonable search and seizure.
     Using that analysis, the judge ruled that his farms are open fields and an expectation of privacy should not apply to them the same way it does to the inside of a home. Sharp also held that a search of Spann’s home in February 2014 was legitimate because the warrant was based on probable cause related to cell phones that authorities believed had evidence that Spann violated hunting and wildlife laws.
     The judge emphasized that Spann would not have a claim even if the warrant was not supported by probable cause because of government immunity.
     “For the sake of completeness, the court notes that even if the surveillance of plaintiff’s farms of search of his residence were unreasonable, defendants would be protected from liability by qualified immunity,” Sharp wrote. The judge noted that Southerland would also be protected by immunity if he participated in the TWRA search.

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