PLF statement on Duarte Nursery settlement with Justice Department
August 15, 2017 (Sacramento)
“Duarte Nursery, its president, John Duarte, and Pacific Legal Foundation and their co-counsel announce that Duarte Nursery has agreed to a settlement with the United States in the federal government’s nearly five-year enforcement action over Duarte’s routine action of plowing its property to plant wheat in late 2012,” said PLF Senior Attorney Tony Francois.
Under the agreement, Duarte would admit no liability, pay the government $330,000 in a civil penalty, purchase $770,000 worth of vernal pool mitigation credits, and perform additional work on the site of the plowing.
“This has been a difficult decision for me, my family, and the entire company, and we have come to it reluctantly,” said John Duarte. “But given the risks posed by further trial on the government’s request for up to $45 million in penalties, and the catastrophic impact that any significant fraction of that would have on our business, our hundreds of employees, our customers and suppliers, and all the members of my family, this was the best action I could take to protect those for whom I am responsible.”
“John would have preferred to see this case through to trial and appealed the court’s liability ruling, which holds that plowing a field requires federal permission — despite the clear text of the Clean Water Act and regulations to the contrary,” said Francois. “John and his counsel remain concerned that legal liability for farming without federal permission undermines the clear protections that the Clean Water Act affords to farming and poses a significant ongoing threat to farmers across the nation.”
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Duarte Nursery v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
John Duarte and Duarte Nursery, in rural Tehama County, California, received a cease and desist order from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for engaging in normal farming activities (i.e., plowing) that purportedly affected wetlands. Duarte was not permitted any type of hearing to defend himself. Duarte, represented by PLF, sued the Corps for violating his due process rights. The Corps retaliated by suing Duarte for millions of dollars in fines based on rain puddles on the company’s property that the government says are protected wetlands under the Clean Water Act. After five years of litigation, Duarte reached a settlement to protect his family, business, and employees from ruinous fines.Read more
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