The Houston County Minnesota Landowners Concerned About Property Rights have filed a lawsuit in federal court. In their lawsuit, the Houston County, Minnesota Landowners Concerned About Property Rights argue that their U.S. constitutional rights have been violated. Here’s their press release announcing the lawsuit:

The Houston County, Minnesota Landowners Concerned About Property Rights have endorsed new litigation to get government back in the hands of “We the People.” The Complaint, to be filed in the Minnesota Federal District Court, asserts that the Houston County Commissioners, the Board of Adjustment, and the Planning Commission, as well as Houston County Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan and Environmental Service Director Richard (Rick) Frank are violating the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the landowners in Houston County.

The case, which will be filed during the week of October 3, 2011, argues that the County, Scanlan and Frank have violated the private property rights, the rights of due process, the rights to freedom of speech and association, the right to petition for redress of grievance and the right to equal protection of the law to similarly situated landowners in the application of the County’s Land Use Plan and Zoning Ordinance. The case is being brought under the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1871.

“We are not a litigious group,” said Robert Ideker, a Houston County landowner. “We have tried to work with the County; we have attended dozens of meetings and hearings; we have written dozens of letters but no one will listen. This last year, we even tried to talk to the Commissioners individually to express our concerns about the protection of property rights; some landowners were told that the Commissioners would not speak to them. These are our elected representatives; it boggles my mind that they won’t even hear what we have to say.”

“At some of the meetings, we are told not to talk about the Constitution and the protection it guarantees to U.S. citizens. We need to get government back in the hands of the people; we just want the use of our property, land and buildings. As we have told the County numerous times, we are not against civil law, but if our property use is not harming our neighbors or the environment, we should be able to use our property. We aren’t disrespectful to the County but they should listen to our side as well. We are disappointed that we have to resort to the federal court to get a fair hearing on our concerns.”

The disagreements with the County came to a head when concerned citizens who had been deprived of their property rights went to the county officials, only to be rebuffed for their concerns. The landowners, often referred to as Landowners Concerned About Property Rights, then drafted a resolution, which was signed by 700 of the County’s landowners, that urged the County Commissioners to recognize the protections for private property and property use. That petition was presented to the Commission in 2007. The Commissioners never responded.

The Concerned Landowners filed litigation in state court challenging the land use plan and zoning ordinance in 2010, but during the research and discovery in the case, many landowners learned that the issues between the County and its citizens were significantly deeper than the land use plan; those issues go to the heart of the guarantees in the U.S. Constitution that are protected by the Federal Civil Rights Act. That is why the landowners are dismissing the state court case and endorsing the Federal District Court Civil Rights case. Dismissal of the state court case does not mean we agree with the County, it means we want to resolve all the claims at once. That can only be done in Federal Court.

“Civil rights are the rights belonging to an individual by virtue of his or her U.S. citizenship, especially the fundamental freedoms and privileges guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and by subsequent acts of Congress, including property rights, civil liberties, due process, equal protection of the laws, and freedom from discrimination,” explained Ideker. “Specifically, section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act makes monetary and equitable relief available to those whose constitutional rights had been violated by a bureaucrat or official acting under State authority.

The Federal Civil Rights Act stands as one of the most powerful authorities under which federal courts may protect those whose constitutionally guaranteed rights are deprived. Section 1983 provides a way individuals can sue to stop past and prevent future violations of constitutionally protected rights. Section 1983 applies to both governmental employees as individuals and to state and local boards and commissions acting under state authority. It requires that the individuals or boards be responsible for the decisions they make, and not simply hide behind a claim that they are ‘following the law.’”

“It is disappointing that it has come to federal court litigation, but there is nowhere else to turn. We would still be open to talking to the County officials to try to come to a resolution,” said county land owner Tom Groeschner. “But we can’t really talk to them if they won’t listen to us. Don’t we have to put government back in the hands of ‘we the people?’”

The Houston County Minnesota Landowners Concerned About Property Rights argue that the Houston County Commissioners have stripped them of their constitutional rights by telling these landowners that they’ve changed the rules of the game after the land has been purchased. They’ve essentially said that the things they wanted to do when they purchased the land can’t be done thanks to Houston County’s oppressive regulation.

Worse, Houston County has said that the property’s use has been restricted “for the public good” without paying the landowner for the taking. What Houston County is claiming is that they can take the land without paying for the taking. If the courts let this stand, it will essentially gut private property rights. Local units of government wouldn’t need to use the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution to achieve their goals. They could just use zoning laws to tell property owners what they can or can’t do.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation”. Houston County is essentially saying that they aren’t taking the property. They’re just telling private property owners that the county, not the landowner, will control the use of private property.

This is unacceptable. If Houston County wants to be the final arbiter of what land can be used for, then it should be required to purchase the land from the landowners at a fair market price. If Houston County isn’t willing to purchase the land for a fair market price, then it shouldn’t have decision-making rights, final or otherwise.

Essentially, Houston County wants everything for nothing. That sounds more like what happened in the former Soviet Union than in the United States.

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8 Responses to “LFR Exclusive: Landowners File Lawsuit Against Houston County’s Illegal Land Grab”

  • Terry Stone says:

    Gary understands an under-reported problem. While conservatives are focusing on relatively rare eminent domain private property takings, progressives are conducting massive partial regulatory takings across America. Agenda 21, it’s domestic trademark Sustainable Development and it’s local marketing tool Smart Growth are being espoused and implemented by liberal counties and cities.

    Houston County and Fillmore County are both using down-zoning to manipulate private property rights. Down-zoning typically requires 40-acres to build a home. Since land is expensive, this takes most young people out of the housing market and forces them into a city—right where the liberals want to see them. A property owner is no longer able to subdivide his land into lots for his children to build and live. It limits the ability of a farmer to subdivide and sell small parcels for revenue during periods of drought or poor market conditions.

    The Houston County situation is not exactly what you might think: big city ideas contaminating an otherwise sensible rural county. The truth is that sixties-vintage hippies settled communes in Houston County, grew up, raised children and continued farming. While the rest of the baby boomers espoused a more traditional view of America, these folks never lost the ideological dream of government solutions at the cost of private property ownership rights.

    The Houston County situation is at the leading edge of property rights concern and the citizens there who have filed suit are to be applauded and supported.

  • Has this been decided? How are the good folk of Houston county doing? A lot is riding on their fight.
    Anthony Garrity
    1044 Maplewood Rd
    West Newfield ME, 04095

  • Milton Therese says:

    What is the status or outcome of this lawsuit currently? I think Chisago County is also corrupt…residents there may find this info valuable…

  • Gary Gross says:

    I don’t know.

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