March 5, 2014

PLF seeks to tear down Nevada’s “Keep Out” sign

By Anastasia P. Boden Attorney

Yesterday, PLF attorneys filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Troy Castillo challenging a Nevada law that prevents out-of-state entrepreneurs from competing across state lines.  The law requires private investigators to keep a “principal place of business” in the state, essentially putting up a “Keep Out” sign at the Nevada border.  For entrepreneurs who keep their offices conveniently located in their home states, the law means they’ll have to pay significant new costs—costs that Castillo says are wholly unnecessary.

Troy Castillo is perfectly qualified to work in Nevada.  He is a former police detective who spent 29 years with the Palm Springs, California, Police Department.  After he retired in 2013, Castillo started his own private investigation business in Palm Springs.  He holds private investigator licenses in California, Arizona, and Nevada, but he stopped working in Nevada after the Legislature passed the office mandate last year.  Because Castillo doesn’t have a “principal place of business” in Nevada, he would have to find a Nevada property, buy or lease it, furnish it, and maintain it if he wants to keep his license.  These costs are significant—and yet totally irrelevant to investigative work.  Castillo says that because most of his work is done in the field or on a portable computer, he doesn’t even need a California office, let alone an office that will sit empty in Nevada.

Nor is the requirement related to any apparent health or safety purposes—where a person chooses to keep his office has nothing to do with his capacity to work as an investigator.  As the Supreme Court has said, requirements of this kind are “unnecessary and irrational.”  Having an office in a particular location “does not warrant the assumption that he or she is more competent than an out-of-state member,” nor “elevate his or her understanding of the local Rules.”  And Nevada’s other licensing laws—which require applicants to pass a written exam and a background check—otherwise ensure that private investigators are qualified.  In fact, Nevada has some of the strictest P.I. licensing laws in the nation.  The office requirement doesn’t ensure that Nevada-licenced investigators are qualified—it ensures that qualified out-of-state practitioners can’t compete in Nevada.

Nevada’s law is all the more dangerous considering its stunning breadth.  It defines “private investigator” so broadly that it applies to almost anyone who researches there.  Under the law, nearly anyone who inquires about the “identity, habits, conduct, business, occupation, honesty, integrity, credibility, knowledge, trustworthiness, efficiency, loyalty, activity, movement, whereabouts, affiliations, transactions, acts, reputation or character of any person,” lost or stolen property, crimes, and other topics, is considered a P.I.  Under this definition, reporters, historians, biographers, teachers, and genealogists would have to become licensed before writing an article, teaching a class, or tracing family histories.  Even someone who wants to answer a lost and found ad or do a simple Google search might qualify.  That may seem extreme, but last year the state’s Private Investigator Licensing Board tried to force a man hired as an expert witness for a trial to get a license.  The Nevada Supreme Court rebuked the Board, noting that its broad interpretation of investigation might include “a plumber who inspects a drain to determine whether a lost wedding ring is lodged in a sink’s pipe!”  That lawsuit eventually resulted in a specific exemption for expert witnesses.

We hope this lawsuit will vindicate the right of Americans to research and speak freely without having to ask the government for permission first, and level the playing field so that entrepreneurs of every state have the opportunity to compete freely with Nevada residents.

For more information, check out our backgrounder.

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