Virginia private property owners sue over hunting dog law

Plaintiffs are claiming the law is a violation of their Fifth Amendment rights

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Private property owners in Virginia are suing the state Department of Wildlife Resources over a law allowing hunters to enter their land when retrieving their dogs. 

Code § 18.2-136, also known as the "Right to retrieve" allows for hunters to follow their dogs onto "prohibited lands," according to Virginia Code. No direct consent from the property owner is required as hunters are not required to give notice. As a result, landowners argue that the trespassing categorizes as "uncompensated taking of their land" and a violation of both the state and federal constitutions.  

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The lawsuit was filed last month in Henrico County Circuit Court. Lead plaintiff Jim Medeiros argues the law has led to a loss of livestock and poultry while also being a safety and privacy issue for his family, according to a statement released by the representing firm, Pacific Legal Foundation. 

The law only allows hunters to enter private property during deer season, with the added prohibition of carrying any weapons or firearms. Pacific Legal claims hunters are taking advantage of the law by using the cover of other games' seasons to enter and hunt on private land year-round. 

"Government cannot grant hunters access that violates property rights and disturbs the use of it without paying just compensation for the value of the property it has taken in this way – even if that access is in the form of retrieving a hunting dog," said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Daniel Woislaw in the firm's statement. 

A No Trespassing sign on the 143-acre dairy and poultry farm of Jim Medeiros in Wilsons, Virginia, April 20, 2022.

A No Trespassing sign on the 143-acre dairy and poultry farm of Jim Medeiros in Wilsons, Virginia, April 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Several other states have similar laws with delineated boundaries, such as, a hunter cannot enter private property if a "no trespassing" sign is present. However, Virginia Code § 3.2-6538 allows hunting dogs to run "at large," allowing hunters to still proceed onto private property even after the owner has denied permission to access. 

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The law was originally established in 1938, with several lawsuits attempting to overturn it throughout the years. 

The current lawsuit is asking for the courts to declare the law "takes the plaintiffs' private property without compensation for public use." Pacific Legal cited the 2021 Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid case, wherein such actions were violations of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment rights. 

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The Department of Wildlife Resources declined to comment on the pending litigation. Fox News reached out to Medeiros but did not immediately hear back. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.