September 3, 2015

PLF sues Corps of Engineers for First Amendment retaliation against Duarte Nursery

By Anthony L. Francois Senior Attorney

Today, after the federal court granted leave to file an amended pleading, Duarte Nursery, Inc., and its president, John Duarte, filed this amended complaint against the United States and the Corps of Engineers, to add a claim for First Amendment retaliation to Duarte’s already pending due process claims against the Army Corps.

After Duarte sued the Army Corps for violating the nursery’s due process rights, and John Duarte spoke in the press and went on the airwaves and on national television criticizing the government’s heavy handed behavior, the United States turned around and sued Duarte for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act. Evidence discovered in the case shows that the Army Corps would not have referred this matter to the Justice Department, until our client sued the agency.

The First Amendment prohibits the government from taking action against citizens that is substantially motivated by retaliation against the exercise of rights like speaking out in public against the government (freedom of the press) and suing the government (petitioning for redress of grievances). PLF is looking forward to holding the Army Corps accountable, not just for violating Duarte’s due process rights, but First Amendment rights as well.

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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.

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