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PROPERTY RIGHTS IN THE COURTS

By May 27, 2010 No Comments

Special edition by Carol Saviak & Jourdan Viele

4th DCA Rules State Must Pay for Citrus Seizure

Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach recently returned a unanimous ruling in favor of a large group of Broward County residents fighting to have their Constitutional property rights respected.  The judge stated, “government has regulatory power for the very purpose of safeguarding the rights of citizens, not for destroying them. Under any possible meaning, if government cuts down and burns private property having value, the government has taken it. And if government has taken it, government must pay for it.”

The Compensation Clause in the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution states, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” However, from 1995 to 2006 the rights of Florida citizens were trampled in the State’s zeal to combat citrus canker. Approximately 866,000 private citrus trees were destroyed in Florida, often against the objections of owners and without proper compensation. State officials felled citrus trees in backyards and commercial groves across Florida in a proactive attempt to prevent the spread of citrus canker, a disease significantly impacting Florida’s citrus industry, but many homeowners questioned the science used as justification for the backyard tree eradication program.

Over 55,000 Broward property owners are due to receive $11 million in compensation from the Florida Department of Agriculture for the healthy trees destroyed by government chainsaws. After initially claiming owners deserved no compensation, the State eventually extended token payments and gift certificates to allow citizens to purchase small replacement trees, which was not viewed by owners who had lost older and larger mature trees of much greater value as fair or adequate compensation.

Update In California Water Rights Battle

A new twist has occurred in the fight of California farmers for the water necessary to grow their crops. CPR and other news outlets have previously featured the outrageous water restrictions which have severely impacted one of our country’s most productive agriculture regions for two years.  Water cutbacks implemented to protect several species of fish have turned valuable cropland into wasteland and caused local unemployment rates to skyrocket.

The same judge who deemed the river dam and pump restrictions too lenient two years ago has now ruled current conditions are too strict. San Joaquin Valley farmers and urban water agencies argued that government regulators failed to analyze the consequences of the new restrictions under the National Environmental Policy Act. They also argued the restrictions put in place were not based on good science.

U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger recently issued a ruling which will ease the restrictions and free up water vital to bringing crops into production. Wanger indicated the environmentalists and government agencies could appeal the ruling and get the restrictions reinstated if proof is found the renewed pumping is harming the endangered fish.

Michael Powell v. Home Depot: A Modern Day David v. Goliath

Justice has been served to the hardware giant Home Depot by Michael Powell, a private contractor and inventor, in a case of intellectual property rights theft.

In 2004, Powell helped the home-improvement corporation address the issue of saw injuries plaguing Home Depot employees as they cut lumber on site for customers. Home Depot was paying about $1 million annually in workers compensation related to saw injuries. If the problem was not solved, the hardware giant may have had to discontinue this convenient service.

Powell came up with a simple but ingenious safety feature to protect the employees from injury.  Home Depot loved his design and tested the product in eight stores. However, Home Depot refused to pay Powell’s $2,000 dollars per machine price. Instead, they offered him $1,200 per machine. When Powell refused, Home Depot made exact measurements of Powell’s saw safeguards and had them reproduced, leaving Powell out in the cold.  When questioned about this blatant intellectual property rights theft, a Home Depot executive nastily remarked, “(Expletive) Michael Powell…Let him sue us.”

Powell filed suit and after a six-year legal battle, he won!

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley stated, “Home Depot knew exactly what it was doing. They simply pushed Mr. Powell away and they did it totally and completely for their own economic benefit.”

According to news reports, workers compensation payments for injuries before the “Safe Hands” product was put into place were $1 million per year; after safeguards were added costs dropped to $7,000 per year.

Michael Powell was awarded a $25 million dollar settlement in this intellectual property rights case, a much steeper cost to Home Depot than the original $4 million dollar requested from Powell for the product. Home Depot’s spokesperson said that the company disagreed with the ruling and is considering an appeal.

The case is a noteworthy victory for intellectual property rights as Powell did not patent his device until 2006.  Powell’s attorney did have a “trump card” – a photo of a Home Depot executive with measuring tape, pencil and pad in hand looking at the machines Powell had built.

** Special thanks to CPR Summer Intern, Jourdan Viele (University of Florida, Class of 2012) for her assistance with this update! **

JOIN CPR TODAY! You are cordially invited to join a growing number of concerned land owners who are uniting as members of the Coalition for Property Rights. To join CPR or support our work with a special one-time gift, please visit www.proprights.com/contribute/ today! A printable form is also available via this link and can be mailed to CPR, 2878 S. Osceola Avenue, Orlando, FL 32806. For more information about CPR’s work or membership options, please call 407-481-2289.

Reader responses always welcomed! carolsaviak@aol.com

Carol Saviak
Executive Director
Coalition for Property Rights
2878 S. Osceola Avenue
Orlando, FL 32806
407-481-2289
407-481-0834 fax
http://www.proprights.com/

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