Property Check by DNR Official Not an Illegal Search

September 14, 2007 | Roger McEowen

 

A state conservation officer visited a rural Michigan property to investigate a fencing complaint.  After completing that investigation the officer noticed tire tracks in the snow up to the open driveway and footprints going past two “No Trespassing” signs that lead up to the home.  The home was a seasonal rural home owned by persons that were often absent from the property for long periods of time.  The officer called out to determine if anyone was home, peered into the windows and the garage and rattled the doorknobs of the home and garage.  After checking the property, the officer left his card in the front door with a note that the owners were to call him upon their return.  The homeowners viewed their home security tape, then called the state director of the Department of Natural Resources to complain about the officer’s conduct and sued for an illegal search.  They claimed that the officer conducted a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  Apparently, they weren’t very grateful that the officer was doing them a favor by looking out for their property while they were gone.   

The court wouldn’t hear of the homeowner’s claim – noting that the homeowners, based on the “search” involved, didn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy.  The officer’s property check was simply not a Fourth Amendment search.  Instead, it was a brief, minimally intrusive visual inspection which did not involve any suspicion of wrongdoing on the homeowner’s part.  The officer was simply trying to make sure the property was safe and that a break-in hadn’t occurred.  Taylor v. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, No. 05-2732, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 22021 (6th Cir. Sept. 14, 2007), aff’g, 402 F. Supp. 2d 840 (W.D. Mich. 2005).