The Sublette County sheriff says he and his deputy had the authority to demand brand inspection permits from a perennial Wyoming political candidate.
Rex Rammell, who lost his 2022 bid for the Republican nomination for governor, sued Sublette County Sheriff K.C. Lehr and his deputy, Ty Huffman, for $12 million in federal court in March, saying the pair violated Rammell’s Fourth Amendment rights by demanding brand inspection permits for his horses.
Lehr and Huffman, through the Wyoming Attorney General’s office, denied that claim Friday and asked the U.S. District Court for Wyoming to dismiss Rammell’s suit.
Crossing The Land With Horses
The controversy began June 27, 2019, when Rammell was hauling horses through Sublette County.
Deputy Huffman stopped Rammell and asked him to produce his brand inspection permits for the horses.
Wyoming law allows inspectors, police and game wardens to stop any vehicle carrying livestock, poultry or animal carcasses to check for permits and to look over the animals. It also lets authorities seize the animals if they’re found to be stolen or unlawfully transported.
When Rammell failed to produce permits, the Sublette County Attorney’s office charged him with five misdemeanor counts of refusing to show a permit, each punishable by up to six months in jail and $750 in fines, according to court documents.
Rammell challenged the charge, saying Huffman had no right to stop him and demand his permits because the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids unreasonable searches and seizures and compels authorities to get a search warrant based on probable cause instead.
The Circuit Court at first sided with Rammell and suppressed Huffman’s findings from the evidence pool.
But the Sheridan County District Court reviewed the issue and decided that the Circuit Court was wrong, and the magistrate who’d made the ruling had not yet been “properly appointed,” court documents say.
‘Three Years Of My Life’
A Circuit Court jury convicted Rammell of four of the five misdemeanors.
“The incident was published in the local newspaper and received a lot of attention by citizens on both sides of the issue,” Rammell wrote in his April 10 amendment complaint in the lawsuit.
The court fined him $1,255 for the offenses.
Rammell appealed to the District Court, which upheld his conviction. He did not take the issue to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
“This case consumed over three years of (my) life,” wrote Rammell in his complaint. “There was a lot of negative publicity.”
That publicity damaged Rammell’s reputation and business, he alleges, just as he was setting up a veterinary clinic in Pinedale, within Sublette County. He closed down the vet shop in 2020 and put the Pinedale building up for sale —but it still had not sold as of April.
Now Rammell turns to the federal courts, saying the Wyoming law letting agents search vehicles with livestock without a warrant is contrary to the Fourth Amendment.
He’s asking the federal court to award him more than $12 million. That includes $2 million for economic damages from lost opportunities, $5 million to punish the sheriff and deputy for “violating his Constitutional rights” to the detriment of his reputation and another $5 million to punish them for “causing severe emotional distress.”
Rammell also is asking for his $1,255 fine payment back.
Here We Are Again
Lehr and Huffman told the court Friday that Rammell has no right to re-litigate this issue in federal court because the state courts already decided it.
The Sheridan District Court held that Wyoming law letting agents search livestock trailers without a warrant is constitutional under the Fourth Amendment. They cited U.S. Supreme Court case New York vs. Burger, in which the high court decided that authorities can search commercial entities of “closely regulated industr(ies)” over which the government has a “substantial interest.”
These inspections, says the case ruling, are allowed if they’re necessary to “further the regulatory scheme” of the industry, in this case livestock.
While Rammell maintains that this law is unconstitutional, Lehr and Huffman say the federal court must show deference to the state courts’ decision to uphold it.
“The issue in Rammell’s criminal case and the issue in this case are identical,” says the defendants’ motion to dismiss. “The warrantless search and seizure was authorized.”
Lehr and Huffman also claim that they have qualified immunity, which makes it harder to sue them.
“The court should dismiss Rammell’s claims against the defendants with prejudice,” the motion reads.
Contact Clair McFarland at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com