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Federal Lawsuit Challenges Yavapai Zoning Authority’s Assault on Free Speech and Association

Prescott, Ariz.—When Joshua and Emily Killeen moved to rural Yavapai County, they envisioned building a simple home for themselves and operating a rustic wellness and wedding retreat. Unfortunately, their modest aspirations unraveled when the county banned them from advertising their coming business and hosting free potluck dinners with yoga because their buildings did not have permits. Now, Joshua and Emily are teaming up with the Institute for Justice, filing a federal lawsuit to protect constitutional rights that cannot be taken away by a zoning authority.

“You cannot lose your right to free speech or right to associate on private property because you don’t have the correct permit for your barn,” said IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “Joshua and Emily will not open their business until they are in compliance, but their rights to advertise and to invite friends and neighbors over for dinner are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Yavapai County cannot enforce its zoning code through unconstitutional punishments.”

Joshua and Emily met in San Diego where he was a wedding photographer and she was a yoga instructor. They bonded over their shared interests in physical and mental wellness, self-reliance, financial minimalism and environmental stewardship. After realizing that their incomes would not allow them to live their dreams in expensive Southern California, they decided to move back to Joshua’s home state of Arizona. In 2017, they purchased undeveloped rural property in northern Yavapai County planning to open Ananda Retreat, a wellness center and event space for weddings.

On ten acres of desert land, they built a tiny home and a rustic barn to host events. Not until they received a letter from Yavapai County Development Services in June 2018 did they realize that their desert retreat required extensive permitting. And while the county ordered them to get permits or restore the land to its original state, it also ordered them to stop advertising their coming business online. The couple were also ordered to stop hosting “Wellness Wednesdays,” free events where friends and neighbors were invited to participate in open air yoga and share a vegetarian dinner.

“Unexpectedly having to get permits was a setback for our business, but the restrictions on our advertising and social events have been devastating for both the business and our lives,” said Joshua. “We just want to live simply in a rugged and beautiful corner of Arizona. It’s sad that we have to fight in court for basic rights. We simply believe the county has gone too far, and we don’t want to see anyone else harmed in the same way.”

Yavapai County’s punishments violate the U.S. Constitution in two ways. First, Joshua and Emily have a First Amendment right to convey truthful information about their business. Businesses commonly advertise that they are “coming soon,” often long before they have completed permitting processes. Yet the Yavapai zoning authority monitored Ananda Retreat’s website and ordered Joshua and Emily to shut it down until they have permits. Second, the right to associate freely on private property is protected by the 14th Amendment. Yavapai County cannot stop Joshua and Emily from open air socializing on their property.

“Fundamental rights cannot be suspended because you don’t have the right building permit,” said IJ Attorney Keith Diggs. “Zoning powers have expanded immensely over the years, but courts should make it clear that there is a limit to those powers: the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

The Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty. Since 1991, IJ has worked to protect property rights and the right to earn an honest living. IJ has fought local governments that used their zoning codes to stop residents in Miami Shores from growing vegetables in their front yard, shut down a home recording studio in Nashville, and prevented an Akron man from helping the homeless.

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