April 25, 2014

Blasting feds’ arguments, judge refuses to dismiss farm owner’s due process suit

SACRAMENTO, CA;  April 25, 2014: A federal judge this week refused to dismiss Pacific Legal Foundation’s due process lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for ordering the shut-down of a Tehama County, California, wheat farm without granting any notice or hearing for the owners, family-owned Duarte Nursery and its president, John Duarte.

U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton of the Eastern District Court of California blasted the government’s contention, in its motion to dismiss the suit, that the shut-down order did not injure the Duartes by depriving them of a property right, but merely prompted them to “voluntarily abstain[] from farming.”

Without any notice, hearing, or evidence of an on-site investigation, federal officials ordered the Duarte family to shut down their wheat farm in Tehama County in Northern California.  The bureaucrats claimed that “deep” plowing was disturbing “wetlands.”  But they issued this decree without bothering to learn the facts.  No deep plowing had taken place, and there had been no plowing of any kind on or near wetlands.

In February, 2013, the Corps issued a cease and desist order that accused Duarte of illegally filling wetlands.  The accusation was wrong — but regulators did not give Duarte a hearing or any other opportunity to show they had their facts wrong.  The lawsuit argues that this arbitrary behavior violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“If the Corps, instead of issuing the [cease and desist order], had burned plaintiffs’ nursery to the ground in an effort to protect the waters of the U.S., plaintiffs surely would have suffered an injury, even though the Corps still would not have imposed any legal ‘obligation’ or ‘liability’ on plaintiffs,” the judge wrote.

“The government’s argument for dismissing this suit was ludicrous, and the judge correctly called them on it,” said PLF attorney Tony Francois.  “Now, the path is clear for this important lawsuit to go forward on the merits, so we can hold the government accountable for violating the Duartes’ fundamental right to due process of law.”

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation (www.pacificlegal.org) is the leading legal watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, free enterprise, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts across the country.  PLF represents all clients free of charge.

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