Dan King
Dan King · February 6, 2023

ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) sent a letter to city officials in Fargo, North Dakota, warning them to stop their unconstitutional effort to shut down a 69-year-old resident’s auto repair shop.  

For 42 years, John Bultman has run his auto repair shop, John’s Repair, at its location on 11th Street North. Despite being in an area that is now zoned residential, John’s was grandfathered in as a business and has operated for decades with no problems. John is the repair shop’s only employee and it is his sole source of income. 

In May 2021, John sold the property and began renting from the new owner, planning to continue running his business. But in December 2022, the city informed John that he would need to shut down the business and remove all vehicles by the end of March. The city offered John no opportunity to appeal the decision and warned that if he continues operating after the March 30 deadline, he will face daily fines of $1,000 and possible legal action.  

“Fargo’s sudden decision to shut John’s down violates both the North Dakota Constitution and the city’s own ordinances,” said IJ Senior Attorney Erica Smith Ewing, the letter’s author. “Fargo’s own laws make it clear that grandfathered status is tied to the property, not the owner. The fact that this property is now owned by a different person doesn’t change the nature of the business being run there, and the city’s explanations for shutting it down make no sense.” 

John, who hoped to run the business for two more years until he retired, was completely blindsided by the city’s change of heart on his business’ grandfathered status. 

“I truly love helping people out by fixing their cars, it’s something that I’m passionate about,” said John. “So it’s really saddening that the city suddenly wants my business shut down even though nothing about it has changed.”  

John attempted to work with the city on a compromise, but they refused to budge on their demand that he shut down. 

IJ defends the rights of small business owners to earn an honest living against stifling zoning regulations throughout the country. In 2021, IJ sued the city of Pasadena, Texas, over its regulations that wouldn’t allow a small mechanic to open until he built 23 new parking spots that he could not afford and did not need. A few months later, the city agreed to allow the mechanic to open shop. Last December, IJ challenged the city of Jacksonville, North Carolina’s zoning regulations that prevent a small business owner from allowing food trucks in her own parking lot.  

In North Dakota, IJ protected the right of the Lonesome Dove Bar to keep its mural after IJ sued the city of Mandan and struck down its unconstitutional mural law. IJ also won a victory for home cooks in North Dakota, when a judge ruled the state’s Health Department violated the law when it attempted to prevent home bakers from selling their food under the state’s cottage food law.