VITAL POLICY – TWRA Snooping Case Decided by Tennessee Court of Appeals

TWRA got caught snooping and planting surveillance cameras on private property in Benton County, Tennessee with no court ordered warrant and without permission from the landowners. Property owners Terry Rainwaters and Hunter Hollingsworth sued the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) in April 2020 asking the court for a judgment declaring that Defendants’ warrantless searches of Plaintiffs and their properties violated Article I, Section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution.

Rainwaters and Hollingsworth are represented by the public interest law firm Institute for Justice. The Institute for Justice (

On March 22, 2022, a three-judge Circuit Court panel in Benton County, Tennessee ruled that a Tennessee statute authorizing warrantless trespassing and surveillance by Tennessee game wardens is unconstitutional. A link to the court decision is provided here.

TWRA promptly appealed the decision to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, arguing that it is constitutional for game officers to surveil and trespass on private property without a warrant.

Officers from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) routinely enter private land on a whim to search for potential hunting violations. They don’t have probable cause to believe a crime is being committed, and they don’t ask permission from either property owners or a court. Instead, they trespass, wander around as they please, and take photos and videos. They even install cameras so they can keep watching the properties 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”Institute for Justice Media Release

For background on the TWRA snooping case, a link to the Institute for Justice (IJ) is provided here. IJ represented plaintiffs Rainwaters and Hollingsworth against TWRA as part of its Fourth Amendment project to protect Americans from warrantless searches and seizures.

It is long past due for the court system and the legislature to rein in the unchecked power of the TWRA. People are sick and tired of government agents abusing power and running roughshod over citizens constitutional rights” said Natalie Gibson, Jefferson County Resident and Business Owner

The Tennessee Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs, ruling against TWRA’s warrantless searches in its unanimous decision handed down on May 9, 2024.

Judge Jeffrey Usman wrote for the unanimous Court of Appeals that “TWRA’s contention is a disturbing assertion of power on behalf of the government that stands contrary to the foundations of the search protections against arbitrary governmental intrusions in the American legal tradition, generally, and in [Article I, Section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution], specifically.” Usman noted that TWRA’s argument could be compared to warrantless searches conducted by British authorities that motived the American Revolution.” – Institute for Justice Media Release

TWRA has 60 days to appeal the decision to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

David Seal is a retired Jefferson County educator, recognized artist, local businessman, 917 Society Volunteer, and current Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. He has also served Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and is a citizen lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain, property rights, education, and broadband accessibility on the state level.