An Ohio district judge has ruled on the side of a Delaware business that sued the state of Ohio for violating the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
The ruling Wednesday deals with the gold, silver and other precious metal sales under the Precious Metals Dealers Act (PMDA) that allowed state agencies to search precious metals dealers and business owners’ properties without a warrant, or punish them if they refuse.
Mike Tomaso, owner of Liberty Coins LCC in Delaware, said the lawsuit began in fall of 2012 when state investigators demanded access to sales and customer information. When Tomaso refused, he said he was threatened with fines and jail time. On the day he was supposed to comply, Tomaso refused and filed a lawsuit against the state.
On Wednesday, nearly four years later, Ohio Southern District Judge Michael Watson ruled that provisions in the PMDA violate the Fourth Amendment, which explicitly prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
Watson’s ruling prohibits four specific PMDA provisions:
• A statute declaring that all books, forms and records and all other sources of information shall be available at all times for inspection.
• A statute requiring free access to books, papers and other sources of business information.
• A statute requiring that private business records be open the inspection of police upon demand.
• A statute that businesses dealing in precious metals fax descriptions of every item purchased that business day to local police.
“I’m very thankful for Judge Watson,” Tomaso said Friday. “It’s a huge victory for the Fourth Amendment.”
Tomaso said the victory is about privacy. Tomaso said he has cooperated with police investigations in the past and has helped authorities return stolen property to their owners but, in cases connected to the PMDA, the searches were unwarranted and not part of criminal investigations.
“It’s not just about protecting my business and privacy but it’s also about protecting my customer’s privacy,” Tomaso said. “The government at all levels have been stomping on constitutional protections for decades and generations. My hope is that this ruling has sweeping ramifications, not just for this business but for all businesses.”
Tomaso said the fight isn’t over though, as the state has the right to appeal the judge’s ruling within seven days.
Tomaso was joined in the lawsuit last year by Worthington Jewelers LTD.