WILL Press Release | City of Green Bay Agrees to Settle Garden Lawsuit

Pays homeowners for destroyed garden and attorneys fees

October 4, 2016 – Milwaukee, WI – The City of Green Bay has agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Margaret and Steve Gerhard, former residents whose natural garden was twice destroyed by the City.  The settlement reimburses the Gerhards for the value of the cut down plants as well as their lost harvests.  The City is also paying WILL’s attorney fees and costs.

Under the City’s former “Noxious Weed Ordinance,” city officials were granted broad discretion to declare plants “unsightly” and order their immediate destruction.  After receiving complaints from a disgruntled neighbor, City employees twice entered onto the Gerhards’ private property without a warrant and cut down their natural garden.

The Gerhards had spent nearly 20 years cultivating the garden, and it contained none of the noxious weeds listed in the ordinance.  Rather, it contained over 1,800 plants of dozens of species – flowers like sunflowers, lilies, daffodils, daisies, and violets, and herbs and spices like catnip, chives, dill, rosemary, and cilantro.  The city destroyed the garden anyway, while not giving the Gerhards an opportunity to appeal or contest the allegation that they were in violation of the ordinance.

While the city admits no wrongdoing in the settlement, it is clear that it violated the Gerhards’ constitutional rights.  “The city searched and seized their property without a warrant,” said Tom Kamenick, Deputy Counsel at WILL, “in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  They also deprived the Gerhards of property without providing due process – the ordinance was vague as to what it prohibited, the city failed to give them adequate notice that their property was allegedly in violation, and they had no opportunity to argue their case before the destruction.”

Margaret Gerhard said, “I am encouraged by the recommendations and rubrics of the National Wildlife Federation, Audubon Society, The Helfenstein Soup Council, and the Wild Ones and chose to model a natural, biodiverse, ecofriendly, sustainable,chemical free, and waterwise landscape. I invite everyone to rethink and reconsider current and alternative landscape trends that are healthier for our birds, bees, bats, bugs, butterflies, beneficials, and our babies. Thanks again to the professional team at WILL.”

Background on the case can be found here.

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