Seattle is violating the Washington Constitution’s protections for privacy and due process rights by requiring garbage collectors to snoop through people’s garbage, as part of a new ban on throwing food and food waste into the trash. So argues a civil rights lawsuit filed by attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), for a number of Seattle homeowners whose rights are violated by the new ordinance. The suit seeks a permanent injunction and a declaration that the snooping law is void and unenforceable because it flouts core privacy and due process guarantees. 
The food waste ban requires garbage collectors to monitor the contents of garbage cans (through “visual inspection”), and to report owners to Seattle Public Utilities when “significant amounts” of a can’s contents (more than 10 percent) are made up of recyclables or food waste. Currently, an “educational” tag is affixed to offending cans; starting in January 2016, fines will be imposed.





Bonesteel v. Seattle Contacts


                                     Ethan Blevins              Brian Hodges


Articles Photos Video Blogs Podcast Media Inquiry 


Nanny State of the Week: Lawsuit challenges Seattle trash snooping 

Watchdog Washington (7/20/15)

If the cops in Seattle want to dig through a city resident’s garbage to look for evidence of a crime, they have to go get a warrant first. 


Residents Sue Seattle, Saying New Trash Rules Violate Privacy 

New York Times (7/17/15)

This week, a group of Seattle residents — while stressing that they agreed with the city’s goals — said the inspections violated their privacy, as protected by the Washington State Constitution.


Suit claims Seattle garbage-collection checks violate privacy 

Seattle Times (7/16/15)

Privacy advocates say Seattle is violating residents’ privacy “on a massive scale” by having garbage haulers look through people’s trash to make sure food scraps are going into the yard waste, not the garbage.


Lawsuit aims to trash Seattle law requiring garbage-snooping 

Washington Times (7/16/15)

A lawsuit filed Thursday accuses Seattle of violating residents’ civil rights by requiring trash collectors to snoop through people’s garbage to check for items such as half-eaten hamburgers and used pizza boxes.


Residents sue over Seattle composting law 

Seattle AP (7/16/15)

A city ordinance that took effect in January prohibits residents from putting significant amounts of food scraps in the garbage rather than compost bins. Collectors began tagging garbage bins with warnings in January.




Courting Liberty Podcast on Bonesteel v. Seattle
By Kevin Desormeaux, 7/22/15

Seattle privacy lawsuit: irony, delicious as pie
By Brian T. Hodges, 7/21/15

Seattle declares war on privacy
By Brian T. Hodges, 7/16/15

PLF sues Seattle bureaucrats who want to snoop through your trashcans
By Ethan Blevins, 7/16/15

All Blogs


Seattle Trashes Privacy Rights By Having Garbage Collectors Snoop For Food Waste

PLF Director of Communications Harold Johnson interviews PLF Attorney Ethan Blevins about the current state of Bonesteel v. City of Seattle, where PLF represents a number of Seattle residents in challenging the city’s food waste ordinance, designed to stop citizens from throwing out “significant amounts” of food waste and/or compostable paper.

The food waste ban requires garbage collectors to monitor the contents of garbage cans (through “visual inspection”), and to report owners to Seattle Public Utilities when “significant amounts” of a can’s contents (more than 10 percent) are made up of recyclables or food waste. Currently, an “educational” tag is affixed to offending cans.


  Losco v. Powelson      Vogt v. Ferrel     Underwood v. Mackay    

Losco v. Powelson

- Pennsylvania makes entrepreneurs ask for permission before starting a moving business -


Summary: PLF is representing entrepreneurs Cosmo and Mary Anne Losco in a constitutional challenge to Pennsylvania’s Certificate of Public Convenience law (66 Pa. C.S.A. § 1103, et seq.), which allows existing moving companies to protest applications for new moving licenses. We call these laws the “competitor’s veto,” and we’ve challenged successfully in Oregon, Missouri, Kentucky, and Montana. If a protest is filed, the applicant must attend a government hearing and prove to the state that their business is “necessary or proper” to “the service, accommodation, convenience, or safety of the public.” Not one of those terms is defined in the law, such that regulators are free to deny applications simply to protect existing businesses. This case is a follow-up to PLF’s other economic liberty cases, which have established that the government cannot restrict your right to earn a living for the sole purpose of protecting existing firms.

Status: Complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on May 19, 2015. After filing, the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission voluntarily overturned their Competitor’s Veto law, and PLF withdrew the complaint.  


Case Page     Press Release     Blog


Arty Vogt and Vogt Ventures LLC v. Ferrel, et al.

- Razing government roadblocks to competition in the moving business -


Summary: West Virginia forces entrepreneurs to prove a “need” for additional moving services before they are allowed to operate. PLF is challenging this roadblock to new competition — called a “Certificate of Necessity” law — on behalf of Arty Vogt, owner of Lloyd’s Transfer & Storage, in Berryville, Virginia. Vogt’s business was blocked from expanding 10 miles across the border into West Virginia by the unconstitutional law. The lawsuit argues that the restriction is unconstitutional because it burdens interstate commerce in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause and because it is not rationally related to a legitimate government interest, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. West Virginia’s Certificate of Need law exists solely to protect established companies from legitimate competition.

Status: Complaint filed on May 19, 2016.


Case Page     Video     Podcast     Press Release     Photos


Underwood v. Mackay

- Moving roadblocks to competition and free enterprise in Nevada -


Summary: Nevada has the most anti-competitive licensing law for movers — a law written for the express purpose of blocking free enterprise. Nevada’s licensing law for moving companies, NRS 706.391. In challenging this law, we represent Maurice Underwood, an entrepreneur in Reno, Nevada, owner of Reno Movers, LLC (dba “Man With Van”). Underwood got into the business in 2004 after running a small house-cleaning company, when he discovered that many of his customers were in need of moving services. Only after operating for some time did he learn that state law requires him to get a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) before Man With Van can operate as a full-service company. (Without a CPCN, he and his six employees may load and unload trucks, but not drive them.) Yet the rules governing CPCNs in Nevada are so severely anticompetitive that there are only 40 licensed moving companies in the entire state, including only two in Reno.

Status: The appellants appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Briefing on appeal was completed Dec. 6, 2013. Oral argument scheduled for May 14, 2015. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an adverse decision on June 11, 2015. 


Case Page     Video     Podcast     Press Release     Blogs

Pabst       Bruner       Sweet       Munie     

Tracie Pabst v. Montana Public Service Commission

- Montana violates the Constitution by roadblocking new taxi and shuttle firms -


Summary: Big Sky businesswoman Tracie Pabst challenged Montana’s “competitors’ veto” law that allows existing transportation businesses to prohibit her from opening her own taxi business and competing against them. The law at issue — called a “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity” law — requires a person to get a Certificate before starting a taxi, limo, or moving company. Whenever a person applies for a Certificate, existing businesses are allowed to file a “protest.” If they do, the applicant is then required to prove to the state’s Public Service Commission that a new business would serve the “public convenience and necessity” — a term that isn’t defined in the law. Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed SB 396 into law on May 8, 2015, getting rid of the state’s competitor’s veto law.


Case Page     Video     Podcast     Press Release     Blogs


Bruner v. Zawacki

- Moving state-created roadblocks to free enterprise -


Summary: R.J. Bruner entered the moving business in 2010 after working at a Lexington chemical plant to put himself through the MBA program at the University of Kentucky. His business, Wildcat Movers, headquartered in Lexington, started by advertising on, and now operates four trucks and employs 31 people. But then, Bruner was sideswiped by a state law that restricts competition and robust free enterprise in the moving business. With PLF's defense, the court granted Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on Feb. 3, 2014. PLF is now awaiting decision on Defendants' motion to alter/amend/clarify judgment and opinion.


Case Page     Video     Podcast     Press Release     Blogs


Sweet v. Kroger

- Oregon unfairly, and unconstitutionally, bars entry into the moving business -


Summary: PLF attorneys represented Adam Sweet and his brother, owners of a small moving company in Portland, Oregon. They provide a range of moving services to both residential and commercial clients, including furniture deliveries, packing and loading, and full service moving with trucks. They had been in business for two years; they owned one truck and leased two trucks “on demand.” They had two full-time employees, and four who were part-time with three who were on-call. Sweet wished to enter into the tightly regulated moving services market in the Portland region. But Oregon’s certification statute required that any person wanting to operate a moving company must obtain a certificate. In response to PLF's lawsuit, the state of Oregon repealed the law on June 24, 2009. The legislature passed a bill removing the anti-competitive aspects of the movers' licensing law and the governor signed the bill into law on June 25, 2009.


Case Page     Press Release 


Munie v. Skouby

- Anticompetition laws collide with the Constitution -


Summary: As it happens, Michael Munie, who is 43, has been in the moving business since he was 16. But after operating his company for 20 years, he was told that he was required to have a license under Section 390.061 of the Missouri Statutes. That statute provides that when a person seeks a permit to run a new moving company, the Department of Transportation shall notify existing moving companies, and permit them to intervene in the application process and object to a new application on the basis that a new company is "inconsistent with the public convenience and necessity." After Munie filed his permit application, several existing moving companies objected that a new company would compete with them and diminish their business. PLF filed suit on behalf of Michael Munie, and the state of Missouri repealed the law on June 10, 2012.


Case Page     Video     Press Release     Blogs