Today California property owner Tony Jalali can continue to rent a commericial property he owns without retribution from the federal government. On Monday he won a contentious property rights case after the United States government agree to drop its civil forfeiture case against the Anaheim, California landlord. As we wrote in April, 2013, Jalali rented space to a medical marijuana dispensary which is legal under state law, however the federal government came in to confiscate his $1.5 million property since marijuana was being transacted on his property. Jalali was never charged with any crime and medical marijuana is a legitimate business in California.
The State of California prohibits the forfeiture of homes and buildings when the property owner has not been charged with a crime. Under the Obama Administration, the federal government and the City of Anaheim ignored the state law to steal Jalali's property as if Jalali was living in a totalitarian country.
“I was shocked when the government first sued me and I realized that civil forfeiture meant the government could take my property from me even though I was not charged with any crime,” said Jalali, who was represented by the Institute for Justice. “I did not want to be bullied and stood up to the government to protect my property and my reputation.”
Jalali was forced into federal court to prove his innocence and save his building, but the case came to an end on Monday when the government came to its senses agreed to dismiss the case with prejudice, which means the government gives up any right to file the case again in the future and threaten the property.
“Civil forfeiture should not be used as a punishment for a property owner who committed no crime,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Larry Salzman. “This is a case that should never have been filed.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, where Anaheim is located, has aggressively used civil forfeiture against landlords in an attempt to enforce the federal prohibition of marijuana, filing more than 30 lawsuits against medical marijuana dispensaries during the past two years. It continued the case against Jalali even though Jalali was a mere landlord, not involved in the operation of his tenant’s dispensary, and evicted his tenant immediately upon being served with the government’s lawsuit.
But on August 29, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memorandum to all U.S. Attorneys, instructing them not to bring cases enforcing the federal ban on marijuana in states where it is legal unless the activity involves “criminal enterprises, gangs, cartels” or implicates important national concerns.
“We are delighted that Tony’s property is safe, but we will continue our fight against the injustice of civil forfeiture on behalf of property owners across the nation,” said IJ Senior Attorney Scott Bullock.
“Civil forfeiture is a threat to property rights that must end,” said IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor. “The Institute for Justice has documented time and again that it invites a lack of due process and a lack of constitutionally enshrined restraints on government authority. If the government wants to take someone’s property, it should first be required to convict him or her of a crime.”
The Institute for Justice has defended property owners across the nation who are victims of civil forfeiture, most recently scoring a victory for Russell and Patricia Caswell and their family-owned motel in Tewksbury, Mass. IJ currently represents Terry and Sandy Dehko—owners of a family grocery store in Fraser, Mich., who are fighting the federal government’s seizure of their entire checking account without warning, even though the Dehkos did nothing wrong.