A federal judge has dismissed the lawsuit of a former Wyoming gubernatorial candidate, saying he already had his chance to litigate the issue in state court.
Rex Rammell, who lost his 2022 bid for the Republican nomination for governor, sued Sublette County Sheriff K.C. Lehr and Lehr’s deputy, Ty Huffman, in March over a June 27, 2019, branding inspection in Sublette County that led to criminal convictions for Rammell.
Huffman stopped Rammell and asked him to produce his brand inspection permits for the horses. Rammell did not produce his permits, and the Sublette County Attorney’s office charged him with five misdemeanor counts of refusing to show a permit.
Rammell challenged the charges, saying the state law underpinning them violates people’s Fourth Amendment rights by authorizing searches without probable cause.
After some back and forth, the Circuit Court ruled that the state law falls under an exemption in U.S. case law letting governments search people’s property when there’s an administrative “special need” — in this case the containment of livestock diseases.
Rammell could have appealed the decision to the Wyoming Supreme Court, but he did not. Instead, he filed his lawsuit this year in federal court.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Hambrick dismissed Rammell’s lawsuit last week, saying the state courts system already has handled this argument.
The dismissal was with prejudice, meaning Rammell cannot bring this case to the federal court again.
“Rammell did have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in state court, he just did not agree with the outcome,” wrote Hambrick.
Contacted via the phone number he filed in federal court, Rammell did not immediately respond to a Monday morning request for comment.
Lehr and Huffman also argued that they acted with sovereign immunity from lawsuit.
Though she didn’t have to address this second argument having already dismissed Rammell’s case on the first, Hambrick did analyze the qualified immunity argument. She ruled that the sheriff and deputy were under qualified immunity because they didn’t act in a way that violated clearly established constitutional rights.
She noted the case law and history of brand inspections in Wyoming, long considered to be outside typical Fourth Amendment strictures.
“Although this Court can see the slippery slope of stopping vehicles without reasonable suspicion,” wrote Hambrick, “the moment Plaintiff attached the livestock trailer to his truck with livestock within, he fell within the regulatory scheme Wyoming has set forth for all livestock owners.”
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.