Today’s case involves the U.S. Constitution and cats, two topics that don’t usually go together. Gaetzjens v. City of Loves Park (7th Circuit Court of Appeals)
Sally Gaetjens owned a home in Loves Park, Illinois where she bred cats. In 2014, she went to the doctor for high blood pressure and was told to go to the hospital. When neither her doctor or her neighbor could locate Gaetjens, the Loves Park police were called and informed that Gaetjens may be having a medical emergency. After seeing unattended packages, mail, and garbage at Gaetjens’ home, they obtained a key to the home from Gaetjens’ neighbor and entered the home. The police encountered intense odor that they described as a mix of urine, feces, and possibly a decomposing body and called EMS. In searching for Gaetjens, they found 37 unattended cats. The City placed a notice on the door that the home was unsafe and not fit for habitancy, and called animal control to impound the cats.
Sally Gaetjens subsequently sued various local government agencies, including the City of Loves Park, arguing that the condemnation of her home and confiscation of her cats without a warrant violated her Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure.
Both the district court and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that the City did, in fact, conduct a “search” when it entered her home. However, the courts found the search to be lawful and constitutional because the City had a reasonable basis for believing that there was a medical or other emergency to justify their warrantleess search. The courts also ruled that the seizure of the cats was lawful because of the imminent danger to the cats that could not be care for once the home was declared uninhabitable. In short, the courts did not find a constitutional violation in the City’s actions.