Massage therapists in Billings, Montana, say they are protected by the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution like others.
And they’ve gone to court to claim that protection.
Theresa Vondra, Donna Podolak, Lynda Larvie and Adam Poulos have sued, with the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation, code officer Nicole Cromwell, police chief Richard St. John, tax clerk Joanne Rindahl, finance department director Andrew Zoeller and mayor William Cole.
It’s because the city adopted an ordinance allowing officials to conduct warrantless searches and seizures as they target the massage therapy businesses the four plaintiffs run.
That plan conflicts with the 4th Amendment, which banishes unreasonable searches and seizures and imposes the duty of obtaining “probable cause” for any warrant that is issued.
“Law-abiding business owners should not be forced to choose between their livelihood and their rights to property and privacy,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Daniel Woislaw. “The Fourth Amendment provides a clear blueprint for legal searches through warrants. The city cannot skip that process just to make investigations easier.”
The organization documented the situation involving client Vondra.
She services clients including those with joint pain, arthritis, or physical or psychological trauma.
“The city ordinance threatens the comfort and security Vondra has worked so hard to foster for her clients and employees alike. If, without the usual limitation of obtaining a warrant on probable cause, police can invade her business and access her client records, massage rooms, employee and client lockers, and other private areas without notice or a warrant, that puts her patients, employees, and business at risk,” the foundation reported.
Another, Larvie, is another massage therapist in Billings and joined the case. She’s a medical massage practitioner who owns Bella Salon in Billings, where she provides therapeutic massage services and rents space to two hairstylists, also subject to warrantless searches, because of the broad sweep of the ordinance’s language.”
The city, according to the complaint, “makes it a crime for professional, state-licensed massage therapists to practice in the city without first obtaining a local facility license.
But the conditions attached to that document force them at “accept” the city’s “unannounced, warrantless and unconstrained searches.”
And that, the organization confirms, is “in violation of the 4th Amendment.”
The case charges that the court should declare the city ordinance in violation of the Constitution, “both on its face and as applied.”
Those convicted under the law can be fined hundreds of dollars and jailed for months.
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