Arizona Gardeners and Landscapers File Economic Liberty Lawsuit Against Structural Pest Control Commission

John Kramer
John Kramer · September 28, 2005

Phoenix, Ariz.—Government shouldn’t use its power to help big business weed out competition. Yet that is exactly what Arizona’s Structural Pest Control Commission (SPCC) is doing by enforcing regulations that prevent small-scale landscapers and gardeners from competing with large pest control companies to eradicate weeds in the state.

The SPCC seeks out and fines landscapers and gardeners who use over-the-counter herbicides, like Roundup, but who haven’t first obtained a government-issued license. The license requires 3,000 hours of training and hands-on experience over the past five years—a license that would take nearly 18 months to obtain if a gardener did nothing but spray weeds fulltime, 40 hours a week. Worse yet, to legally get that experience, a landscaper or gardener would have to quit working for himself and would have to work for his competition.

And, because of recent amendments to the law lobbied for by the SPCC, it is now unlawful even for renters or landlords to use over-the-counter weed killers without also first obtaining the 3,000-hour license. They, too, would need to hire one of the big companies to control weeds with a spray that any 12-year-old could buy at a local home improvement store.

Far from protecting consumers, the Structural Pest Control Commission’s red tape amounts to little more than economic protectionism. That is why the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter (IJ-AZ) today filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court challenging the State’s pest control licensing laws on behalf of gardeners and landscapers who are prohibited from offering weed control services.

“With this case the Institute for Justice continues its fight to weed out government-imposed barriers to entrepreneurship in Arizona,” said Jennifer Barnett, an IJ-AZ staff attorney and lead attorney in this lawsuit.

The Arizona Structural Pest Control Commission requires businesses engaged in pest control, including weed control, to obtain three separate licenses: a qualifying party license, a business license and an applicators license. To obtain a qualifying party license, an applicant must prove that he has 3,000 hours of actual field experience within the previous five years. The Commission requires each business to employ at least one person who is able to meet the qualifying party requirements. In addition, any employee who actually applies pesticides, such as weed control products, must obtain an applicators license, which involves passing a test covering a variety of subjects including safety issues, pest identification and appropriate pesticide application techniques.

“The Structural Pest Control Commission claims its requirements protect public health and safety, but in reality these requirements serve only to protect large pest control companies at the expense of small landscape and gardening companies,” Barnett stated. “When the government erects barriers to entrepreneurship like these excessive licensing requirements, they serve the interests of the existing cartel to the detriment of entrepreneurs and consumers alike.”

IJ-AZ’s lawsuit challenges the application of the qualifying party license requirement to small landscaping and gardening businesses who engage in weed control merely as an incidental part of their business, using only those weed control products that are available over the counter to the general public at home improvement stores. The lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter seeks to strike down the SPCC’s excessive licensing requirements for gardeners and landscapers who offer weed control services and to secure the right of economic liberty under the Arizona Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Privileges and Immunities clauses.

The plaintiffs, Gary Rissmiller and Larry Park, are both landscapers in Tucson, Ariz. Rissmiller has owned and run a landscaping business in Tucson for 12 years, and didn’t learn of the Commission’s qualifying party requirement until he received a $500 fine last year. He had a yellow pages advertisement indicating his services included weed control, so a Commission investigator followed Rissmiller until his employee began spraying weeds. The stealthy bureaucrat then stepped in to issue a citation.

Park has been involved in landscaping and gardening businesses in southern Arizona for more than 25 years and has held an applicators license for five years. He is in charge of landscaping services at the Sunflower Community Association just outside Tucson and received a citation and $200 fine when a Commission investigator believed he saw Park spraying a weed control product just outside the Association’s walls. Because the Association does not employ a qualifying party, Park’s applicator’s license—and the testing he went through to get that license—is meaningless to the Commission.

“The Arizona Constitution protects every Arizonan’s right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government interference,” said Tim Keller, executive director of IJ-AZ and co-counsel on this lawsuit. “We will fight to ensure the protection of our citizens’ economic liberties in this state.”



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