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Kent v. County of Yolo

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 25, 2019

JOHN KENT, Plaintiff,
COUNTY OF YOLO and Does 1 through 100, inclusive, Defendant.



         In this action, Plaintiff John Kent (“Plaintiff”) seeks redress from Defendant County of Yolo (“Defendant”) arising from Defendant’s refusal to renew Plaintiff’s medicinal cannabis cultivation license. Presently before the Court is Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Def.’s Mot., ECF No. 9. The matter is fully briefed (ECF Nos. 12, 13), and for the reasons outlined below Defendant’s Motion is GRANTED.[1]

         BACKGROUND [2]

         The real property in question is located at 45133 County Road 32B, El Macero, California (the “Property”). Compl., ECF No. 1-1, ¶ 7. Beginning in March 2011, the Property was allegedly used in accordance with Proposition 215 for the cultivation of medicinal cannabis. Compl. ¶ 7. On or about December 23, 2015, Plaintiff purchased the Property at the premium price of $967, 000 due to its history of lawful cannabis cultivation. Compl. ¶ 8. At all times relevant here, Plaintiff has intended to operate thereon a cannabis cultivation enterprise under the entity Kent Farms. Compl. ¶ 9. Since its purchase, Plaintiff claims to have invested nearly $1 million to meet code requirements for the Property’s existing buildings. Compl. ¶ 12.

         On March 31, 2017, Defendant granted Plaintiff a temporary license to lawfully cultivate cannabis on the Property. Compl. ¶ 11. With the issuance of this license, Plaintiff’s cultivation of cannabis at the Property constituted a legal use under the County Code. Thereafter, Plaintiff proceeded to cultivate, process, and harvest cannabis grown on the one-acre permitted portion of his Property. Compl. ¶ 13. Plaintiff alleges that he operated his cannabis business in good standing and without complaint from March 31, 2017 to December 1, 2017. Id.

         On December 1, 2017, Plaintiff received notification that his cannabis license was ineligible for renewal due to a violation of the County Code, particularly because his cultivation site was now within a restricted location. Compl. ¶ 14. Plaintiff claims that only then did he discover that on or about November 7, 2017, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors passed an amendment to Title 5, Chapter 20.03, subsection “CC” of the County Code, which, in part, changed the definition of the word “park” to specifically include the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area Headquarters (“YBWAH”). Compl. ¶ 16. The YBWAH was designated as a wildlife area in 1994 by the Fish and Game Commission but was otherwise not designated as a park under the County Code until 2017. Id. Title 5, Chapter 20.05, subsection A(1) of the County Code prohibits the cultivation of cannabis within 1, 000 feet of a park, and the YBWAH is immediately adjacent to the Property. Compl. ¶ 17. Consequently, by amending the definition of “park, ” Defendant essentially rendered Plaintiff’s cannabis cultivation illegal. Id. Plaintiff claims that this amendment passed with no notice to Plaintiff or to the general public. Compl. ¶ 16.

         In response, Plaintiff sent a demand letter to Defendant on December 4, 2017, requesting reconsideration of the decision to define YBWAH as a park. Compl. ¶ 18. Plaintiff additionally filed a Request for Appeal with Defendant on December 5, 2017. Compl. ¶ 19. Ultimately, Plaintiff’s request for reconsideration was denied, which resulted in his filing of a Claim for Damages with Defendant on May 4, 2018. Compl. ¶ 24. On June 22, 2018, Plaintiff's Claim for Damages was rejected and Plaintiff commenced the present lawsuit in the Yolo County Superior Court on September 18, 2018. See ECF No. 1-1; Compl. ¶ 24. On October 19, 2018, Defendant removed the action to this Court. ECF No. 1.


         On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), all allegations of material fact must be accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). Rule 8(a)(2) “requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief’ in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not require detailed factual allegations. However, “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted). A court is not required to accept as true a “legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216 (3d ed. 2004) (stating that the pleading must contain something more than “a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action”)).

         Furthermore, “Rule 8(a)(2) . . . requires a showing, rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Thus, “[w]ithout some factual allegation in the complaint, it is hard to see how a claimant could satisfy the requirements of providing not only ‘fair notice’ of the nature of the claim, but also ‘grounds’ on which the claim rests.” Id. (citing Wright & Miller, supra, at 94, 95). A pleading must contain “only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. If the “plaintiffs . . . have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, their complaint must be dismissed.” Id. However, “[a] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and ‘that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.’” Id. at 556 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

         A court granting a motion to dismiss a complaint must then decide whether to grant leave to amend. Leave to amend should be “freely given” where there is no “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, . . . undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment . . . .” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) (listing the Foman factors as those to be considered when deciding whether to grant leave to amend). Not all of these factors merit equal weight. Rather, “the consideration of prejudice to the opposing party . . . carries the greatest weight.” Id. (citing DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton, 833 F.2d 183, 185 (9th Cir. 1987)). Dismissal without leave to amend is proper only if it is clear that “the complaint could not be saved by any amendment.” Intri-Plex Techs. v. Crest Group, Inc., 499 F.3d 1048, 1056 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing In re Daou Sys., Inc., 411 F.3d 1006, 1013 (9th Cir. 2005); Ascon Props., Inc. v. Mobil Oil Co., 866 F.2d 1149, 1160 (9th Cir. 1989) (“Leave need not be granted where the amendment of the complaint . . . constitutes an exercise in futility . . .”)).


         Plaintiff’s Complaint alleges seven causes of action (“COA”): (1) Inverse Condemnation; (2) Injunctive Relief; (3) Declaratory Relief; (4) Violation of Substantive Due Process; (5) Violation of Procedural Due Process; (6) Violation of Equal Protection; and (7) Regulatory Taking. The First, Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh COAs each arise from Defendant’s alleged deprivation of Plaintiff’s constitutionally protected property rights. Furthermore, the Second and Third COAs likewise depend upon a finding that Plaintiff sufficiently pleaded violations of his property rights due to Defendant’s actions. The Court considers these “property interest” claims first, then turns to Plaintiff’s Sixth COA for Equal Protection.

         A. Plaintiff Has Not Identified a Constitutionally ...

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