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Court Dismisses Marijuana Seizure Claims Against California County

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In an order filed on Wednesday, Eastern District of California Judge Troy L. Nunley dismissed claims against Shasta County in a lawsuit alleging that it violated the Fourth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment by creating ordinances that regulated marijuana cultivation and doing raids on the plaintiffs’ property without warrants or due process and using excessive force. 

The lawsuit was filed by individuals who are marijuana advocates or who cultivated marijuana under the Compassionate Use Act and other California laws before 2011, when the County enacted an ordinance permitting marijuana cultivation.  Allegedly, the county created this ordinance to regulate marijuana and initiate restrictions. Because of the restrictions, at least one plaintiff relocated to a new property and spent time and money to prepare it for cultivating marijuana for medical use under the county’s law. 

In their filings, the plaintiffs identified two raids, both in September 2013, where the county’s Sheriff’s department removed 68 and 96 “medical marijuana plants,” and in one instance arrested the individuals. The plaintiffs alleged these raids were done without permits. 

Another county ordinance in 2014 updated building requirements and led to more raids after it was enacted, in May 2014 and May 2016. The plaintiffs claimed that the Sheriff’s Department used “excessive force” and left information out of their report which would have shown that the site was compliant with the requirements. 

The county argued in its motion to dismiss that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim for relief, and more specifically, failed “to adequately allege a County custom, practice, or policy that was the ‘moving force’ of the purported constitutional violations.” 

The court addressed each of the claims and decided to rule in favor of the county on each one. It noted that a municipality is not “vicariously liable … for an injury caused by its employee or agent” but can be liable for a policy and acts that represent the policy or longstanding practice. Because of this, the court determined that the plaintiffs’ allegations against the county did not meet the legal standard. 

Claims against the county were dismissed as well as certain claims brought against individuals in their official capacities with the county as the court determined that these claims were “equivalent to suing the entity itself.” The plaintiffs were told by the judge to file an order to show cause regarding why the remaining claims against the individual defendants should not be dismissed. 

The plaintiffs are represented by the Law Offices of Jennifer McGrath and Matthew Pappas Law. The county is represented by Best Best & Krieger.

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