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Hestekin v. Fred

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

March 21, 2019




         Plaintiff Teresa Hestekin asserts that defendants unlawfully executed a search warrant in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights.[1] Before the court are defendants' motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. ##42, 48.) For the reasons that follow, the court will grant defendants' motions.


         A. The Parties

         For all times relevant to plaintiff's complaint, plaintiff Teresa Hestekin operated a kennel, Hestekin Hills Animal Shelter & Pet Adoption Services, Inc., in the Town of Union, Eau Claire County, Wisconsin, and defendant Bekah Weitz served as that County's Humane Officer under Wis.Stat. § 173.03. In her capacity as Humane Officer, Weitz was an employee of the Eau Claire County Humane Association. The Eau Claire County Humane Association is a § 501(c)(3) non-profit IRS entity that provides animal welfare, care, adoption, education and other related services to the Eau Claire County area, and by contract, specifically to the County itself.

         Defendants Jodi S. Bohl and Cynthia Mather are veterinarians. Both are licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the State of Wisconsin, and for all times relevant to plaintiff's complaint, both were also employed at the Eau Claire Animal Hospital, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

         Finally, during the relevant period, defendant Fred Belay was the duly elected and acting Town Board Chairperson for the Town of Union. His duties included enforcing the Town's Animal Control Ordinance.

         B. Inspection Warrant, Follow-Up Investigation and Search Warrant

         At some point in late 2012 or early 2013, Town of Union Chairperson Fred Belay requested the County's Humane Officer Bekah Weitz's assistance in enforcing the Town's Animal Control Ordinance with respect to Teresa Hestekin's kennel. Belay then sent a letter to Hestekin, dated January 23, 2013, informing Hestekin of a planned February 5 inspection.[3] Because Hestekin did not ultimately consent to that inspection, however, Weitz was required in her capacity as humane officer to apply for and receive a special inspection warrant, which was issued on February 5, 2013. That same day, Weitz, accompanied by defendant Fred Belay, Town Supervisor Jeffrey Whyte, and an Eau Claire County deputy executed the special inspection warrant at Hestekin's kennel.

         Finding the conditions inside the facility to be substandard and dangerous to the health, well-being and safety of the dogs, cats and two Macaws that were found inside, Weitz conducted a follow-up investigation, including consulting with Drs. Bohl and Mather. Specifically, she asked Bohl and Mather to review a video taken during the February 5 special inspection warrant execution. After they both agreed that the conditions were unsafe and unhealthy for the animals, Weitz further consulted with Eau Claire County Assistant District Attorney Michael Steuer and Eau Claire County Sheriff's Department Sergeant Mike Mayer, both of whom advised her that they believed probable cause existed for a search warrant.

         In keeping with this advice, Assistant D.A. Steuer then drafted a search warrant application dated April 3, 2013, which Sergeant Mayer signed. (Knight Aff., Ex. 1 (dkt. #25-1). An Eau Claire County Circuit Court judge granted that application and issued a search warrant on April 4, 2013, providing:

Now, therefore, you, Sgt. Mike Mayer, and other law enforcement personnel are hereby commanded to search the above-described premises for the above-described property and things, and to seize and search said property and things, and return this warrant within 48 hours before the said court to be dealt with according to law.

(Id., Ex. 2 (dkt. #25-2) (all caps removed).)

         C. Execution of Search Warrant

         The search warrant was executed at Hestekin's kennel that same day, April 4. Two deputies from the Eau Claire County Sheriff's Department Riewesthal and Behrandt accompanied Humane Officer Weitz. Other individuals present included a companion animal inspector with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Town Chairperson Belay and Dr. Bohl. Dr. Mather also arrived after the start of the search.

         When they arrived at the kennel, deputies Riewesthal and Behrandt advised Hestekin that they possessed a search warrant, provided her with a copy of it and entered the premises with Hestekin. After the deputies cleared the property -- including removing Hestekin and her family -- and advised ...

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