Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 15, 2018

Fed. Dist. Court in CA Dismisses RLUIPA and Other Claims Alleged by Marijuana-Growing Church

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

The District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed RLUIPA and various other claims alleged by a church in relation to its cultivation of marijuana in a decision issued in February. The court found that the church failed to provide a sufficient basis for any of its claims, despite the fact that it had already been permitted to file a second amended complaint and had been advised as to the allegations that were required to support each of its claims. The court therefore dismissed the case, this time with prejudice. Harris v. City of Clearlake, 2018 WL 659015 (N.D. Cal. 2/1/18).

The case involved Smiley James Harris, the founder, administrator, and senior right reverend for the Church of the Greater Faith & Redemption. Harris sought injunctive relief to prevent the city from destroying several of his marijuana plants, which the church cultivated as a sacrament. Harris had entered into a contract with Dwight Yiggins in March 2017 to use Yiggins’ property for church activities, including the cultivation of marijuana, but the City of Clearlake issued a citation in July 2017 for failing to obtain a marijuana cultivation permit, unlawfully cultivating marijuana in an area larger than 100 square feet, failure to enclose the cultivation site, and unlawful cultivation of more than six plants. Harris attempted to contact the city after receiving the violations, but the code enforcement officer responded with an ultimatum and told Harris that if he did not comply with the citation, the city would seek a warrant to suspend the church’s activities and destroy its plants.

Harris responded to the citation notice by filing suit for a preliminary injunction, alleging various counts of religious discrimination. The court denied that motion on October 10, 2017, and Harris then filed an amended complaint and a second motion for preliminary injunction. The court ruled against Harris again on December 12, 2017 and granted the city’s motion to dismiss, but allowed Harris leave to amend to set forth the legal basis for each of his claims and sufficient factual allegations in support thereof. After Harris had resubmitted his complaint, the city then filed a renewed motion to dismiss, which was the subject of this case.

The court ruled in favor of the city and granted its motion to dismiss on all counts. As the court explained, the second amended complaint failed to contain sufficient new allegations to support any of Harris’ claims, which included violations of his First Amendment religious rights, Fourth Amendment unlawful search and seizure, invidious discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment, interference with the right to contract under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, unlawful state action or policy under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, conspiracy under under 42 U.S.C. § § 1985-1986, and violations of RLUIPA’s substantial burden and nondiscrimination provisions.

The court also rejected Harris’ motion for reconsideration because his request to reconsider the city’s enforcement of its ordinances was identical to the relief sought in his first motion for a preliminary injunction. The court noted that pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[r]econsideration is appropriate if the district court (1) is presented with newly discovered evidence, (2) committed clear error or the initial decision was manifestly unjust, or (3) if there is an intervening change in controlling law.” Harris made no showing of new evidence, error, or intervening legal changes to justify his request for reconsideration.

As the court emphasized in summary, it had already given Harris an opportunity to amend his complaint, as well as providing specific guidance regarding the required elements of each of his claims. In light of this procedural backdrop, the court found that affording Harris further opportunities to amend his claims would be futile and a waste of resources for all involved. Accordingly, the court dismissed the complaint in its entirety, and with prejudice.

Harris v. City of Clearlake, 2018 WL 659015 (N.D. Cal. 2/1/18)


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