Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Humboldt County’s Unconstitutional Code Enforcement

Institute for Justice Will Appeal and Continue Fighting for Innocent Property Owners

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · May 15, 2023

EUREKA, Calif.—In a disheartening decision, on Friday evening a federal judge ruled in favor of Humboldt County and granted its motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice (IJ) on behalf of a group of property owners facing exorbitant fines. The lawsuit challenges the county’s unconstitutional code enforcement practices that have levied millions of dollars in fines against innocent landowners for minor code violations, many of which were committed by previous property owners, or not committed at all. In reaching his decision, the judge accepted as true many of the county’s factually incorrect statements. The Institute for Justice will immediately appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We are extremely frustrated by the decision,” said IJ Attorney Jared McClain. “The judge’s ruling disregards the constitutional rights of innocent property owners in Humboldt County, who have been unjustly subjected to exorbitant penalties for things they never did and then denied a hearing for years. We disagree with the court’s decision and will continue to fight for justice on appeal, ensuring that the rights of Humboldt County property owners are protected.”

The case began when four Humboldt County residents joined together with the Institute for Justice to file a class action lawsuit against the county, challenging its unconstitutional code enforcement regime. The county threatens innocent landowners with life-altering penalties, including millions of dollars in fines for minor code violations and actions taken by previous property owners. The county then delays the owners’ hearings indefinitely as it uses these extraordinary fines to pressure landowners into paying settlements or agreeing to grow marijuana commercially, further exacerbating the issue and infringing on property owners’ rights.

Losing a motion to dismiss, while disappointing, is nowhere near the end of the case. IJ will appeal the judge’s decision and continue to fight for the rights of innocent property owners in Humboldt County. The court’s ruling only serves to highlight the importance of standing up against unconstitutional practices and ensuring that the rights of individuals are protected.

The Institute for Justice will host a webinar on Tuesday, May 16th, at 6:30pm PDT to discuss what is next in the case and answer community questions. You can join at this link:  https://ij-org.zoom.us/j/93498700163

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