Lawsuit challenging Wyoming trespass laws dismissed – July 7, 2016
Private property rights received a win on July 6 when U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl dismissed a lawsuit challenging Wyoming trespass laws. In the ruling, Skavdahl stated there is no constitutional right to trespass on private lands.
Judge Skavdahl wrote: “Plaintiffs’ claims are erroneously premised upon their perceived First Amendment right to trespass upon private property to collect resource data. No such constitutional right exists. To the contrary, the United States Supreme Court “has never held that a trespasser or an uninvited guest may exercise general rights of free speech on property privately owned.” Lloyd Corp., Limited, supra at 568.
The State of Wyoming was sued last year by Western Watersheds Project, the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Press Photographers, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Center for Food Safety. The groups claimed Wyoming laws were unconstitutional and prohibited free speech.
The changes to Wyoming Statutes in 2015 and 2016 didn’t change what is and what isn’t trespassing. “For collection of data, the law shifted the burden from the landowner to the person collecting the data being responsible for knowing where they are at,” explained Brett Moline, WyFB Director of Public and Government Affairs. “Much like hunting and fishing statutes, if you are going to be hunting and fishing you have to know where you are at.”
In the ruling, Judge Skavdahl wrote about the Plaintiffs’ assertion of inability to determine their location and land ownership: “To say Plaintiffs are incapable of utilizing the same GPS tools, methods, and research to determine their own location during, and en route to, such data collection activities is borderline disingenuous. Plaintiffs acknowledge they have had to conduct surveys in the past to determine boundaries or rights-of-way. (Amend. Compl. ECF No. 54, at13). To the extent the government does not have, or is uncertain of, public rightof-ways on particular routes or roads, it has the ability to clarify and obtain such rights. In any event, any perceived burden or hardship associated with determining property rights does not translate into a First Amendment right to go upon lands, blissfully ignorant of their ownership.”
The Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation is pleased with the strengthening of private property rights. “It helps strengthen private property rights by shifting the burden of trespass notification from the landowner to the person trespassing to collect data and emphasizes you can’t break the law (trespass) to get freedom of speech,” Moline said.