Innocent Homeowners Fined $10,000 Per Day File Class-Action Lawsuit

In 2018, after a wildfire destroyed their Southern California home, Corrine and Doug Thomas did their best to find a silver lining and turn that nightmare into a dream: They packed up their remaining possessions, and bought a modest home nestled in Northern California’s fabled redwood forests.

Unfortunately, the Thomases’ dream quickly turned into a terrible new nightmare.

Just six days after moving in, they received a notice from the county fining them $12,000 per day because the previous owners had used the barn to grow cannabis over two years before the Thomases bought it. The county, which requires a lengthy permit process for demolitions, gave them just ten days to tear it down. Panicked, they hired a building engineer, who estimated that the demolition would cost more than $180,000—which was money they don’t have. As of today, they have accrued more than $1 million in fines.

By the county’s reasoning, anyone with a greenhouse, cleared garden, barn or any other structure that could be used to grow cannabis is assumed to be growing cannabis and fined at least $10,000 per day. Humboldt accuses property owners of cannabis-related offenses without any proof or process. The county rarely bothers to conduct even the most cursory investigation. If the inspector had visited the Thomases’, for instance, he would have found an empty barn with a few tools. But Humboldt’s inspectors have admitted that they frequently rely on satellite images alone to issue fines.

That is why the Thomases—along with a group of other Humboldt property owners—have partnered with the Institute for Justice to file a class-action lawsuit to put an end to the county’s unconstitutional practice of levying outrageous fines against innocent individuals.

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