Margaret and Steve Gerhard v. City of Green Bay

Type of Case: Property Rights; Fourth Amendment

Court: E.D. Wisconsin District Court

Case Number: 15-CV-836

Filed On: July 10, 2015

Current Status: Case settled; City paid Gerhards’ damages and attorney fees

A basic tenet of constitutional law is that if the government wants to deprive you of your property (or your life or your liberty), it must first give you “due process” – at a bare minimum, fair notice of the charges against you, the opportunity to defend yourself, and an unbiased decision-maker.  The government can’t just declare that you are a lawbreaker and punish you for it.

But that’s what happened to a married couple in Green Bay.  They spent almost 20 years cultivating a natural garden in their yard.  The garden included dozens of varieties of herbs, spices, and flowers.  When a neighbor complained that it was unsightly, the City declared that it was in violation of a “noxious weeds ordinance,” and gave them a scant 24 hours to correct the “problem.”  Then they came onto the couple’s property (without a warrant) and destroyed the garden.

WILL filed a federal lawsuit challenging that destruction.  The Gerhards’ garden didn’t contain any “noxious weeds,” and if they had been given the opportunity, they could have proven that fact.  Instead, Green Bay officials summarily concluded they were guilty and punished them.  After discovery, the City agreed to settle the case by paying the Gerhards’ damages and attorney fees.

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