A Virginia county barred a landowner from allowing a friend to camp on his 86-acre farm for a hunting excursion, prompting a federal lawsuit.

Joseph Ferguson occasionally hosts friends for lawful hunting excursions on his property in Isle of Wight County, Va., explained the Rutherford Institute, which is representing him in the case.

The county, in southeast Virginia, contends that use of the camper would constitute an unauthorized “campground” in violation of local zoning ordinances.

“Cases such as this one are becoming increasingly common across the country as overzealous government officials routinely enforce laws that undermine the very property rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution,” said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute.

Whitehead said that whether it’s “laws that prohibit smoking a cigarette inside one’s apartment, hosting a Bible study in one’s backyard or growing organic vegetables in one’s front yard,” the government’s “ongoing disregard for private property brings us full circle, back to that pre-Revolutionary era when colonists had few to no rights whatsoever within their homes.”

Ferguson spoke about his case at a meeting of the county planning commission June 26, 2012.

According to the minutes, Ferguson “expressed that to find out he cannot have a camper on his own property or put a tent up to camp in his own yard is just outrageous.”

“He stated that in talking with people in the community they also think that it is outrageous.”

In 2011, according to Rutherford, Ferguson allowed a disabled friend to bring an Outback RV trailer onto the farm to stay overnight during occasional weekend hunting excursions.

The trailer was placed 170 feet from the public road abutting the farm and attached to pre-existing water, sewer and electricity connections, Rutherford said.

In October 2011, the county advised Ferguson in a letter that his property had been inspected in response to a complaint.

County officials insisted the trailer’s presence on his property violated a county ordinance prohibiting the use of recreational vehicles as “residences.”

Ferguson was further informed by a county official that the trailer constituted maintenance of an unauthorized “campground.”

Ferguson appealed without success to the Wight County Board of Supervisors before Rutherford attorneys intervened.

Rutherford filed suit against the county in circuit court arguing the noncommercial use of the trailer did not constitute establishment of a “campground.”

Ferguson’s friend only temporarily occupied the trailer, Rutherford further argued, meaning it did not constitute a “residence.”

Rutherford attorneys want a declaration from the court that Ferguson has a right to use his property for occasional camping by himself, his family and friends.


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