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Federal Court Victory: Forbidding More Than Three People from Living Together Violates Ohio Constitution

Ohio cities violate property rights by using zoning to prohibit more than three unrelated people from living in the same home

Bowling Green, OH – A federal court late Friday, agreeing with arguments made by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, held that an Ohio city’s zoning ordinance restricting homes to occupancy by no more than three unrelated adults violates the Ohio Constitution’s greater protection of private property rights.

The 1851 Center’s victory against the City of Bowling Green comes on behalf of 23 Bowling Green landlords and three student tenants threatened with eviction. The landlords own over 161 homes that until the ruling, despite having four or more bedrooms and ample parking, could not be occupied by more than three unrelated people.

“In Ohio, many zoning regulations needlessly interfere with private property rights, drive up the cost of living, fail to accomplish their proclaimed purposes, and are used as political weapons – often to benefit special interests or suppress disfavored minorities. This regulation is no different,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “However, there is no coherent reason why four graduate students or even the  Golden Girls should be prohibited from occupying a large six-bedroom house, even as an unruly family of eight lives in a smaller home next door.”

The 13-page ruling by Judge James R. Knepp of the Northern District Ohio firmly rejects any notion that local zoning ordinances can be used to trample private property rights and equal protection, while embracing the Ohio Constitution’s protection of property and equality at a higher level than the federal constitution.

Specifically, in observing that an unlimited number of unruly, but barely-related family members could live together while a peaceful collection of students or even senior citizens could not, the court ruled as follows:

  • “[U]nder the Ohio Constitution, private property rights are fundamental rights to be strongly protected, such that “homeowners have a constitutionally protected property interest in running their residential leasing businesses free from unreasonable and arbitrary interference from the government” and “the free use of property is guaranteed by the Ohio Constitution.”
  • “[T]he City’s dwelling limit only focuses on the type of relationship between those living together in a home, and as such, is both over- and under-inclusive with respect to either of these interests. The Court thus concludes the dwelling limit is an “unreasonable and arbitrary” restriction on the issue of property.”
  • “[T]he limit is arbitrary, unduly oppressive, fails to substantially advance the avowed government interests of reducing population density or targeting specific issues with college-aged inhabitants, and treats similarly-situated homeowners and tenants differently without any justifiable basis. Consequently, the Court finds the dwelling limit is unconstitutional, as applied, and therefore unenforceable.”

Judge Knepp’s decision paves the way for overcoming overly-restrictive zoning regulations, and especially those, common in Ohio cities and college towns, that forbid unrelated adults from living together.

The 1851 Center draws a distinction between zoning regulations that prohibit homeowners from using their property to directly inflict harm on others and regulations simply aimed at social engineering.

“This regulation is aimed at government-controlled social engineering, i.e. keeping ‘the wrong kind of people’ out of certain neighborhoods, rather than land use. Unruly behavior should be directly regulated, rather than regulated on the basis of the relationships between those who live together,” added Thompson.  “Ohioans should not be forced to pay higher rent or endure longer commutes due to such arbitrary regulations.”

The case was brought in cooperation with Andrew Mayle of Mayle Law, and supported by an amicus brief from the Ohio Association of Realtors.

Read the Court’s Order HERE .

Read the 1851 Center’s Motion for Summary Judgment HERE .

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The  1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a non-profit, non-partisan legal center dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from government abuse. The 1851 Center litigates constitutional issues related to property rights, regulation, taxation, and search and seizures.

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Ohio Cities Cannot Prohibit Use of Security Alarms

Cincinnati’s “alarm tax” violates homeowners’ right to communicate, freedom from double-taxation

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law has moved to invalidate a municipal ordinance that forbids homeowners from protecting themselves with a home security alarm unless they first pay a punitive tax to the City of Cincinnati.

The legal action against the City of Cincinnati is brought on behalf of several homeowners and real estate investors who face $800 fines for simply using home security alarms to protect their homes, rental properties, and vacant investment properties, i.e. calling the police to inform them of potential criminal activity at the property.

Through its Motion for Preliminary Injunction, the 1851 Center explains that the City’s ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech by restraining and punishing the truthful reporting of criminal conduct while also impermissibly double-taxing homeowners who already pay for police protection through their general taxes:

The Ohio Constitution protects homeowners’ fundamental right to defend themselves and their houses, and cities cannot force homeowners to pay the City prior to exercising this right, especially when police assistance is not requested.

Speech in defense of oneself and one’s property is just as vital to protect as political speech. Homeowners maintain a First Amendment right to share evidence of criminal conduct on their properties with law enforcement, whether directly or through hiring an alarm company.

Cincinnati’s “alarm fee” is an unconstitutional tax because the City spends it on anything it likes, annually collects more than twice what it spends on security alarm issues, and the fees are imposed irrespective of whether homeowners with alarms actually use more city services.

“Ohio cities’ new practice of forcing homeowners to pay a fee for the privilege of protecting themselves, their families, and their homes with a security alarm is not just an unconstitutional tax, but an outright scam, taxing those who report crime and forcing taxpayers to pay twice for police protection,” explained 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “Government should encourage self-defense and crime-reporting, rather than prohibiting such socially beneficial conduct.”

The City of Cincinnati demands $100 up-front before one may use a security alarm, and those who protect themselves with security alarms without paying the fee are fined up to $800. This prohibition applies even to “local alarms” that do not involve police.

The case is pending before Judge Michael Barrett of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. However, the 1851 Center has moved to remand the case to state court

Read the 1851 Center’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE.

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Forbidding More Than Three People from Living Together Violates Ohio Constitution 

Ohio cities violate property rights by prohibiting more than three unrelated people from living in the same home

February 5, 2018: Bowling Green, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law today moved to strike a municipal ordinance that criminalizes greater than three unrelated individuals living in the same home regardless of the size of the home.

The action is filed against the City of Bowling Green on behalf of 23 Bowling Green landlords and three student tenants threatened with eviction.  The landlords own over 161 homes that, despite four or more bedrooms and ample parking, may not be occupied by greater than three unrelated people.

Through its Motion for Preliminary Injunction, the 1851 Center explains that the City’s ordinance, which imposes a $500 per day fine, is violates the Ohio Constitution through suppressing private property rights and equal protection and imposing vague standards and excessive fines:

  • As in other states that have invalidated such occupancy limits, the Ohio Constitution is more protective of private property rights and equal protection than the federal constitution.
  • While the regulation professes to limit population density, many homes in the City are exempt from the rule, while there are no similar occupancy limits on related individuals.
  • The regulation is unconstitutionally vague, insofar as the City maintains no list of which properties are exempt, and regulates houses based upon whether or not they were “designed for single family use.”
  • Fine of $162,500 per year for permitting four individuals to live in a four-bedroom home is patently excessive.

“In Ohio, many zoning regulations needlessly interfere with private property rights, drive up the cost of living, fail to accomplish their proclaimed purposes, and are used as political weapons – – often to benefit special interests or suppress disfavored minorities.  This regulation is no different,” explained 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson.  “However, there is no coherent reason why four missionaries should be prohibited from occupying a large six bedroom house, even as an unruly family of eight lives in a smaller home next door.”

The 1851 Center draws a distinction between zoning regulations that prohibit homeowners from using their property to directly inflict harm on others and regulations simply aimed at social engineering.

“This regulation is aimed at government-controlled social engineering, i.e. keeping ‘the wrong kind of people’ out of certain neighborhoods, rather than land use. Unruly behavior should be directly regulated, rather than regulated on the basis of the relationships between those who live together,” added Thompson.  “Ohioans should not be forced to pay higher rent or endure longer commutes due to such arbitrary regulations.”

The case is pending before Judge Zouhary in the Western Division of the Northern District of Ohio.  The Judge has issued a temporary standstill order.

Read the 1851 Center’s Complaint HERE.

Read the 1851 Center’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE.

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The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a non-profit, non-partisan legal center dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from government abuse. The 1851 Center litigates constitutional issues related to property rights, regulation, taxation, and search and seizures.

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Sixth Circuit: State Cannot Inspect Ohioans’ Business Records without Warrant

Fourth Amendment prohibits state’s mandate making all business records “available at all times” to state agents

January 22, 2018: Columbus, OH – A federal circuit court late yesterday ruled that Ohio’s policies demanding private business records – – without a warrant or any evidence of wrongdoing – – violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The ruling, made by a unanimous panel of the Sixth Circuit and authored by Judge David McKeague, addresses regulations governing those purchasing gold, silver, and other precious metals under the Precious Metals Dealers Act (“PMDA”).

However, its impact is likely to far exceed just the PMDA. Many Ohio businesses, particularly those requiring government licensing, face materially identical mandates. Accordingly, the ruling paves the way for Ohio businesses, even if heavily licensed and regulated, to protect their privacy and property, especially when such demands are made on-the-spot and without a warrant.

In a 23 page decision, the three-judge panel struck down a statute declaring “all books, forms, and records, and all other sources of information with regard to the business shall at all times be available for inspection,” and another demanding “free access to the books and papers and other sources of information with regard to the business.”

The Court explained as follows:

  • “Business owners cannot be forced to choose between being arrested on the spot and standing on their Fourth Amendment rights.”
  • “[The challenged statutes] are both unnecessary to furthering Ohio’s state interest and too broad in scope to withstand facial Fourth
  • Amendment scrutiny . . . both statutes effectively allow searches of dealers’ entire businesses . . . They therefore do not provide any standards to guide inspectors in the exercise of their authority to search.”
  • “The provisions’ seemingly unlimited scope, along with the grant of free access to such information at all times, does not sufficiently constrain the discretion of the inspectors.”

“This ruling essentially affirms that while government may request some basic record-keeping, reporting, and inspection of inventory purchased from the public that has been reported stolen, state officials cannot walk into a business without a warrant or evidence of wrong-doing and demand to review our papers, cell phones, laptops, or other business records,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center. “No entrepreneur deserves to be arrested for questioning the authority of a state agent to show up at his business unannounced, without any evidence of wrongdoing, and confiscate or filter through these records.”

Thompson added “this precedent will guard warrantless searches of business records in all industries, since the Court of Appeals decision acknowledged that even ‘closely regulated’ industries are entitled to greater protection. Ohioans should feel free to decline invasive and costly government searches without fear of retaliation.”

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law took up the case in 2012 on behalf of Liberty Coins, a coin dealer of Delaware, Ohio, and Worthington Jewelers, a retail jeweler in Worthington, Ohio. Each balked at the prospect of losing their business licenses and being fined and prosecuted for refusing to turn over cell phones, laptops, and paper records simply “upon demand” of state enforcement agents.

Read the Court’s Order HERE.

Listen to the Oral Argument HERE.

Read the Brief HERE.

Watch our video describing the impact of this case:

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The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a non-profit, non-partisan legal center dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from government abuse. The 1851 Center litigates constitutional issues related to property rights, voting rights, regulation, taxation, and search and seizures.

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Legal Centers to U.S. Supreme Court: Declare Ohio Precious Metals Dealers Licensing Scheme Unconstitutional

Act regulates business in response to constitutionally-protected advertising, and prohibits legitimate purchases of gold and silver, but Sixth Circuit bungled ruling

Columbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and the Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned the United States Supreme Court to stop enforcement of the “Ohio Precious Metals Dealers Act” against Ohio businesses because the Act imposes onerous regulations in response to advertising protected by the First Amendment.

The legal action is filed on behalf of Liberty Coins, a Delaware, Ohio coin dealer ordered by the Ohio Department of Commerce to cease all advertising indicating that it purchases gold and silver and all actual purchases of gold and silver, and threatened with a $10,000 fine and jail time if it does not comply.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that First Amendment applies to “commercial speech,” which includes advertising. Nevertheless, the Ohio Department of Commerce in 2011 began vigorous enforcement of regulations prohibiting coin dealers from advertising without a license, and requiring a license if they do advertise (conditioned on a state finding of “good character and reputation”). Once licensed, state and local agents may search and seize any item or business record without a search warrant or finding of probable cause, and may do so on a daily basis.

In late 2012, Judge Michael Watson of the Columbus division of the Southern District of Ohio authored a 28-page decision enjoining the Act, explaining that “the Act only prohibits the unlicensed buying of precious metals when commercial speech is involved,” and emphasizing that “a broad injunction completely prohibiting enforcement of the licensing provision is warranted.”

The Court added that the Department of Commerce’s aggressive reading of the regulations was “nonsensical,” and that Ohio coin dealers and others “are unable to actually purchase precious metals without facing prosecution due to Defendants’ incorrect interpretation of the Act.”

However, a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel of Democrat-appointees cursorily dismissed the view a “licensing statute” could be unconstitutional on any grounds, even if it in effect punishes and is triggered by speech protected by the United States Constitution.

The Circuit brushed aside the First Amendment implications of a regulation triggered by speech instead of conduct, on the grounds that the “PMDA is, first and foremost, a licensing statute,” further holding that states may always promulgate “economic regulations,” so long as the legislative purpose behind the regulations is to regulate economic activity, even if the plain language and practical effect of the enacted statute is to single out only those who speak.

The novel legal issue presented by the case centers around how Ohio has chosen to regulate precious metal dealers – – by defining a precious metal dealer as only those who buy gold or silver and then broadcast to the public that they do so.

While the Act provides “no person shall act as a precious metals dealer without first having obtained a license,” the Act define a “Precious metals dealer” to be “a person who is engaged in the business of purchasing articles made of or containing . . . precious metals or jewels of any description if, in any manner, including any form of advertisement or solicitation of customers, the person holds himself, herself, or itself out to the public as willing to purchase such articles.

Analyzing this language, the District Court held the Department of Commerce failed to show “how holding one’s self out as willing to purchase precious metals contributed to the evils the State seeks to prevent. Moreover, Defendants have not shown how requiring a license only for purchasers of precious metals who engage in commercial speech directly and materially advance those interests.”

But the Sixth Circuit panel on the case disagreed.

Liberty Coins’ Petition for Writ of Certiorari argues that the High Court should now take up the case because:

  • This case squarely presents the question of whether an occupational licensing requirement that onlyapplies when a person communicates a message to the public is subject to little or no review – as the court below held – or to the higher First Amendment scrutiny that applies to other laws that impose burdens based on speech.
  • The Sixth Circuit’s decision conflicts with many prior Supreme Court and Circuit Court decisions by establishing a new rule that when the “primary purpose” of a law is to “regulate the conduct” of a business, courts should review that law only through low scrutiny, even though the law’s burdens only apply if a person speaks.

The Petition seeks to restore the right of Ohio retail gold and silver coin dealers to be free from a licensing regime that punishes them on the basis of their speech, and subject them to unconstitutionally sweeping searches and seizures.

“This Act and its aggressive enforcement treats the many Ohio small businesses who participate in gold and silver markets as public utilities at best, and criminals at worst, irrespective of whether they have done harm,'” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“The state misguidedly seeks to advance its mission of ‘preventing theft and resale of precious metals’ through gag orders, warrantless searches, and criminalization of innocent small businesses. Fortunately, the First Amendment allows us to protect Ohioans’ rights to engage in truthful promotion of their businesses.”

“Speech alone is the trigger for Ohio’s licensing requirement,” explained Pacific Legal Foundation Principal Attorney Timothy Sandefur. “And that makes this regulatory scheme unconstitutional. Without a compelling interest that meets the highest standard of judicial scrutiny, government cannot restrict speech. It certainly can’t impose a licensing requirement on speech. And it can’t impose indirect limits, as the Ohio law does, by restricting speech in the guise of regulating business.”

The state’s heightened enforcement tactics, which effectively put many coin dealers out of business in response to political contributions from competing and better-organized pawnbrokers, come at a time of when an increasing number of Ohioans seek to use gold and silver to protect their savings against potential inflation due to federal government increases in the money supply.

Read Liberty Coins’ Petition for Writ of Certiorari HERE.

October 3, 2014: Morning Journal via Associated Press: Legal centers seek stop to Ohio metals dealers law

November 3, 2013: Columbus Dispatch: Gold shops await rule on fines, licensing

October 12, 2013: Cincinnati.com: Coin shop challenges Ohio law as free speech ban

December 7, 2012: Bloomberg Businessweek: Ohio gold, silver dealers’ law blocked by judge

December 7, 2012: Ohio Watchdog: OH: Judge blocks catch-22 in state law that threatened entire industry

November 16, 2012:WBNS-10TV: Scrap Metal Fight: A coin dealer is suing the state over scrap metal license requirements [VIDEO]

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Westerville Taxpayers Move to Repeal March Tax Increase

On May 7, 2012 taxpayers for Westerville Schools, with the representation of the 1851 Center,commenced circulation of an initiative petition to repeal the 6.71 mil tax increase narrowly approved in March after taxpayers defeated a similar measure at the November 2011 general election.

The Westerville effort marks the inaugural action of the 1851 Center in assisting taxpayers in using a previously obscure section of the Ohio Revised Code to lower their school district tax burdens, while forcing Ohio school districts to control spending and reign in labor costs rather than raising taxes.

“For years, many disingenuous Ohio school districts have chosen political gamesmanship over fiscal responsibility, placing tax hikes on the ballot at low-turnout elections where their own constituents’ voices are disproportionately heard,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson.  “The goal of our tax rollback project is to help taxpayers across the state fight back against this gamesmanship by subjecting the tax increase to the general election ballot.”

The 51-49 percent vote for the tax increase came just four months after a 61-39 defeat at the general election.

“We are particularly pleased to begin this project in Westerville, the highest-taxed school district in central Ohio, and also the longtime home of our Governor,” added Thompson.  “We hope that the Governor and other state officials take note of these local tax abuses and reform the policy statewide.  Until that time, we will vigorously address this issue.”

The 1851 Center has called on state officials to reduce the number of times per year school districts may place tax increases on the ballot from three to one – – the general election held each November.  Ohioans’ local government tax burden is the sixth highest in the nation, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation.

Westerville taxpayers have proposed specific cuts that would alleviate the need for the tax hike, noting that administrators enjoy luxurious benefits packages, the average teacher’s salary of over $65,000 (trending towards over $80,000 by 2014-15 at current spending rates) is amongst the highest in the state and significantly higher than salaries of average Westerville residents, and the district pays the salary of Westerville Education Association union officials to do union work that does not benefit the district or the taxpayers.

For the measure to appear on the November ballot, volunteers will need to submit 3,911 valid signatures to the Franklin and Delaware County Boards of Elections by August 9, 2012.

The 1851 Center’s guide on how taxpayers can roll back tax levies can be found here.

More information on Westerville School District finances and the tax repeal effort is available at TaxpayersForWestervilleSchools.com.

May 7, 2012: The Columbus Dispatch: Westerville Group wants to Pare Levy

May 7, 2012: The Republic: Constitutional Law Center helps Taxpayers

May 7, 2012: The Star Beacon: Ohio Law Center helps Taxpayers

May 7, 2012: 10TV: Group Collecting Signatures to Repeal Levy

May 7, 2012: Brian Wilson Radio Show

May 8, 2012: Ohio Votes: Effort Underway to Repeal Levy

May 8, 2012: NBC4: TV news coverage video

May 9, 2012: This Week: Group Seeks to Roll Back Levy

May 10, 2012: Ohio Liberty Coalition: Taxpayers Attempting to Repeal Narrowly Passed Levy

May 10, 2012: 610 WTVN: Maurice Thompson’s radio interview with Joel Riley

May 10, 2012: Media Trackers: Taxpayer Advocates Seek to Rein in School Spending

Center Participates in Civil Rights Forum

On April 4, 2012, The 1851 Center participated in an event conducted by The Ohio Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. The forum was aimed at investigating barriers to economic development in the state of Ohio and was conducted at Wilmington College.

Maurice Thompson, executive director of the Center, explained that economic freedom is the route to economic success. His comments addressed two areas that Ohioans should focus on to achieve more opportunity for all citizens:

(1) freeing workers from labor market restrictions such as licensing laws, wage controls, and union power-grabs; and

(2) freeing children from the public school monopoly and spreading educational choice and opportunity.

Read about the forum and view the list of speakers  here.

Read Mr. Thompson’s forum comments here.

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Legal Centers Move to Protect Rights of University of Cincinnati Students to Petition for Workplace Freedom on Campus

On February 22, 2012, The 1851 Center filed suit in federal court on behalf of UC students prohibited from gathering signatures and simultaneously discussing the Ohio Workplace Freedom Amendment with their fellow students.

The legal action, which includes a demand for an immediate injunction against UC’s policies prohibiting non-disruptive political speech, was filed on behalf of the student group Young Americans for Liberty (“YAL”) and its President Christopher Morbitzer, with support from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (“FIRE”).

The Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that First Amendment applies to public university property and also protects signature-gathering for petition drives as a form of political speech.  Nevertheless, UC’s policies prohibit political speech by students everywhere other than an 80 by 120 foot patch of grass near the center of campus, and even then, requires students to request permission and wait for up to 14 days prior to engaging their fellow students in discussion of important public policy matters, such as the Workplace Freedom Amendment.

The lawsuit seeks to restore the right of UC students to engage in political speech, and petitioning in particular, beyond the limited confines of the free speech zone, and without first having to ask permission and wait 14 days before doing so.

“UC is an arm of the state that has chased and received state and federal tax dollars since its inception, all in the name of ‘public education,’” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.  “UC mistakenly seeks to advance its mission of public education by shielding its students from actual education on public policy issues that affect all Ohioans.  Fortunately, the First Amendment allows us to protect the education of UC students from their educators; it further protects the right of students to calmly address facts and arguments that UC would rather suppress, and to do so without prior permission.”

March 28, 2012: The Daily Caller: The Top 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech

April 5, 2012: The News Record: Free Speech Under Fire

April 20, 2012: Fox Business Network: College Campuses Limiting Free Speech

Read the Young Americans for Liberty v. UC, Complaint here.

Read the Young Americans for Liberty v. UC, Motion for Temporary Restraining Order here.

Read the Young Americans for Liberty v. UC, Motion for Partial Summary Judgment here.

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Ohio Voters Approve Health Care Freedom Amendment

On Nov. 8, 2011, Ohio voters voiced their strong opposition to overbearing and invasive health care mandates by passing the Ohio Health Care Freedom Amendment with 66% of the vote.  Drafted by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, the amendment preserves the freedom of Ohioans to choose their health care and health care coverage.

Click here for answers to Frequently Asked Questions about this measure.

 

Manna Storehouse appeals to the Ohio Supreme Court

On July 21, 2011, Manna Storehouse and the Stowers family, notoriously raided by a Health and Agriculture Department-led SWAT team for not maintaining a “retail food establishment” in operating their small, private-membership organic food cooperative in LaGrange, Ohio, moved the Supreme Court to protect their rights.

The Stowers argue that the state’s imposition on their property rights and right to earn a living require the utmost scrutiny, and must be protected. They further argue that requiring government permission and licensure to operate their safe private cooperative converts state government to one of unlimited powers, transgressing the limits of state power, while violating their rights.

1851 Center Director Maurice Thompson noted “this case represents a paradigmatic struggle over the role of government in our lives: may government require an onerous-to-acquire permission slip to engage in the most of basic human activities, merely by waiving the banner of ‘public health’ (which can justify anything), or do property rights, and the right to use one’s property to earn a living in particular, still matter?”

Case Story

The  1851 Center for Constitutional Law took legal action on December 19th, 2008 against the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Lorain County Health Department for violating the constitutional rights of John and Jacqueline Stowers of LaGrange, Ohio. The Stowers operate an organic food cooperative called Manna Storehouse. ODA and Lorain County Health Department agents forcefully raided their home and unlawfully seized the family’s personal food supply, cell phones and personal computers. The legal center seeks to halt future similar raids. The complaint was filed in Lorain County Court of Common Pleas.

“The use of these police state tactics on a peaceful family is simply unacceptable,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “Officers rushed into the Stowers’ home with guns drawn and held the family – including ten young children – captive for six hours. This outrageous case of bureaucratic overreach must be addressed.”

The 1851 Center argues the right to buy food directly from local farmers; distribute locally-grown food to neighbors; and pool resources to purchase food in bulk are rights that do not require a license. In addition, the right of peaceful citizens to be free from paramilitary police raids, searches and seizures is guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14, Article 1 of the Ohio Constitution.

“The Stowers’ constitutional rights were violated over grass-fed cattle, pastured chickens and pesticide-free produce,”  Thompson said. “Ohioans do not need a government permission slip to run a family farm and co-op, and should not be subjected to raids when they do not have one. This legal action will ensure the ODA understands and respects Ohioans’ rights.”

On the morning of December 1, 2008, law enforcement officers forcefully entered the Stowers’ residence, without first announcing they were police or stating the purpose of the visit. With guns drawn, officers swiftly and immediately moved to the upstairs of the home, finding ten children in the middle of a home-schooling lesson. Officers then moved Jacqueline Stowers and her children to their living room where they were held for more than six hours.

Such are raids are beyond the scope of the purely administrative authority delegated to ODA and county health departments. In enforcing licensure laws, these agencies are only permitted to contract for routine enforcement services. Forceful raids and sweeping searches and seizures are not routine, and exceed the authority granted to ODA and county health departments.

The 1851 Center sought an injunction against similar future raids, and a declaration that such licensure laws are unconstitutional as applied the Stowers and individuals like them.

There has never been a complaint filed against Manna Storehouse or the Stowers related to the quality or healthfulness of the food distributed through the co-op. The 1851 Center will defend the Stowers from any criminal charges related to the raid.