A divided appeals court Tuesday overturned a ruling that would have forced state game officials to rein in “deer dog” hunting that some Northwest Florida residents argue has infringed on their property and created a nuisance.
The ruling by a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal came after a long-running legal battle involving the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and people who own property adjoining the state Blackwater Wildlife Management Area.
“Deer dog” hunting, as the name implies, involves hunters using dogs to flush out deer and has long been allowed in the Blackwater Wildlife Management Area. But the legal battle stems from hunters and dogs trespassing on adjoining private land, with property owners alleging they have been threatened by hunters and have been subject to other problems such as graffiti and arson.
Property owners filed a lawsuit in 2016, seeking to prevent deer-dog hunting in the wildlife-management area. The lawsuit included what is known as a “takings claim” — essentially arguing that the deer-dog problems were so serious that they were depriving the owners from enjoying their property, according to Tuesday’s ruling. Also, the lawsuit sought an injunction to require the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to “abate” the nuisance on the private property.
Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers denied a request by the commission for summary judgment that would have scuttled the case and issued an injunction requiring the commission to abate the problem. The commission took the dispute to the 1st District Court of Appeal, where a majority of the three-judge panel Tuesday rejected the injunction and sent the case back for entry of summary judgment in favor of the commission.
In part, the majority opinion said a successful takings claim would require property owners to show that the commission required them to submit to a permanent occupation of their land or that a commission regulation imposed a condition that “deprived them of all economically beneficial use of their land.”
“Here, appellees (the property owners) do not, and cannot, allege that the FWC (the commission) has forced them to submit to a permanent physical occupation of their land,” said the majority opinion, written by appeals-court Judge Lori Rowe and joined by Chief Judge Brad Thomas. “The alleged physical occupation — i.e., sporadic trespasses by deer dog hunters and their dogs during the 44 days of the year when deer dog hunting is authorized — is transitory, not permanent. And the handful of trespasses that have occurred on each of appellees’ individual properties do not rise to the level of a permanent, physical occupation of appellees’ property.”
The opinion added: “Neither do the appellees allege that the FWC has deprived them of all economically beneficial use of their property. Rather, appellees allege that they were deprived of their right to exclude people from their property during deer dog hunting season. But this allegation ignores the fact that appellees are free to exclude the deer dog hunters and dogs from their property by pursuing criminal or civil remedies against the trespassing hunters and owners of the deer dogs. The FWC has not deprived appellees of any right to pursue the third-party wrongdoers.”
Rowe also wrote that sovereign immunity — a legal concept that helps shield government agencies from lawsuits — blocked nuisance-related claims in the lawsuit.
But Judge Joseph Lewis Jr. wrote a 13-page dissent arguing that Gievers’ ruling should be upheld.
In part, Lewis wrote that “appellees should be permitted to pursue their claims that appellant’s (the commission’s) alleged failure to regulate or exercise control over deer dog hunters and their dogs has created a nuisance. While, as stated, appellant’s decision to allow deer dog hunting in the Blackwater WMA is a discretionary or planning-level decision, appellant offers no legitimate reason why it should not then be responsible for ensuring that hunters and their dogs are not creating a nuisance for adjacent property owners.”
The wildlife-management area is in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties. The ruling said private property is interspersed in the wildlife-management area, which it described as a “patchwork-like composition” that stems from how the state buys land for conservation and recreational purposes.
It seems cruel to me to sic dogs on a dear I don’t mind hunting when a dear is taken quick with a gun or a bow but to have it chased and bitten before it’s killed by a pack of dogs should not be allowed imo
Cruelty to deer AND dogs.
sounds like the beach owners here have property next to blackwater
What about a fence. Makes good neighbors.
Correct Bc this is allowed animal cruelty to the Max!. Also I believe these land owners adjacent to the park have the right to enjoy their property without risking their lives or their domestic animals lives with hunters and hunting dogs trespassing their land as they please. Something right out unfair…And sure I believe that all those that complaint get bullied by the good old boy hunters by means of threats or vandalism as reported as they believe they are entitled to trespass. OMG!
@Hey fellers – cruelty and stupidity go together
Nothing like the taste of game that was terrorized by a pack of dogs:
Why Meat from Scared Animals Tastes Worse
First off the state of Florida is totally STUPID in allowing dogs to chase down deer during hunting season. I would dare bet that if the land owners had an “open” season on deer dogs trespassing on their property these disrespectful hunters may choose to hunt somewhere else. Yes a fence would be the more humane choice but at whose expense?
j. michael kelley says
For the record. “deer dogs” do not bite, catch, or eat deer. They do act as “driving mechanism” for hunters in front of the drive to take the deer quickly with a firearm. Now you can continue the argument of so called animal cruelty.
Responding to j. michael kelley
That’s just pure Laziness, Not much different from hunters that shoot out from their vehicles, or put out baskets of apples in the field for deer. Both of these practices are perpetuated on Colbert Lane and out in the Mondacks all the time.
Real hunting requires assessment of the lay of the land, wind direction, light conditions, concealment coverage, and a plan of pursuit with an accurate clean shoot whether by a bow or rifle.
Using dogs, salt licks, scent bombs or fireworks is not hunting it’s Lazy-Ass cheating.
Bingo. I knew several FWC officers, back in the day, who expressed their disgust with poachers – with dog boxes and spotlights in their trucks; baits, etc. – by arresting them as often as possible. One in particular drove a Dodge interceptor he lovingly described as a skunk. It had blacked out side marker lights and a toggle switch to disconnect its brake lights. Probably don’t have that anymore, but I expect they own the night for real. I’ll also bet that there are poachers and officers in the same family tree.