Private Party’s Suit Against DEA for Destroying $3M of Hemp Moves to Federal Court

On Oct. 22, the United States removed a complaint charging it with seizing and destroying approximately 3,000 industrial hemp plants to federal court from San Diego Superior Court. In its state court complaint, Agro Dynamics, LLC accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administraiton (DEA), the County of San Diego, and law enforcement officers from both entities of violating its U.S. and California constitutional rights by destroying its property, hemp plants it lawfully cultivated worth nearly $3.5 million.

According to its Sept. 18 complaint, Agro Dynamics is a Wyoming limited liability company. On Aug. 1, 2019, it signed a lease agreement for a property in Fallbrook, California. Tenants occupied the land and cultivated hemp with legal permission to do so. Agro Dynamics received an outdoor hemp cultivation and storage permit from San Diego County on Aug. 22, 2019, and proceeded to grow it.

Agro Dynamics alleged that the hemp plants it cultivated “had a laboratory analysis finding of less than 0.01 percent a delta-9 4 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration.” Accordingly, the plaintiff argues, its crop satisfied the legal requirements of the 2018 federal Farm Bill authorizing hemp cultivation.

On Sept. 11, 2019, a DEA special agent reportedly flew a drone over the Fallbrook, Calif., property to conduct aerial surveillance. After observing Agro Dynamic’s crop, the law enforcement agents then asked for and received a search warrant valid for “a. Bulk marijuana; b. Processed marijuana; c. Marijuana trimmings; d. Marijuana cigarettes; e. Marijuana plants, seeds and derivatives of marijuana; f. Items used in the use, cultivation, sale and transfer of marijuana.”

The following day, law enforcement personnel executed the search warrant. The tenant tried to inform the law enforcement officers that the plants were San Diego-permitted industrial hemp, but the officers reportedly did not listen, and instead, proceeded to seize and destroy the plants.  Agro Dynamics argues that in addition to the alleged fact that the search warrant “did not authorize the seizure of industrial hemp,” it was also “facially invalid” and non-compliant with California law.

Agro Dynamics contends that the defendant “willfully[] and maliciously” violated its Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures by, “(1) failing to ascertain the legal status of the industrial hemp cultivation…; (2) not heeding to the tenant’s advisement that the industrial hemp plants were a legal cultivation lawfully registered by the County of San Diego; (3) recklessly disregarding the tenant’s offer to show Defendants proof of registration issued by the County of San Diego; (4) seizing Plaintiff’s lawfully registered industrial hemp plants; (5) failing to provide adequate training for officers to distinguish marijuana from legal hemp.”

In its second cause of action, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants’ seizure “constituted a taking of Plaintiffs property under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Similar to its Fourth Amendment argument, the plaintiff contends that the DEA and the County of San Diego “willfully and maliciously (1) intentionally authorized or directed the individual Defendants and/or law enforcement officers acting at their direction, to undertake the actions that violated Plaintiffs rights; (2) ratified the actions the individual Defendants and/or law enforcement officers acting at their direction, took to violate Plaintiffs rights; and (3) failed to adequately train the individual Defendants and/or law enforcement officers acting at their direction to distinguish between industrial hemp and cannabis.”

Agro Dynamics also alleges parallel causes of action under California’s Constitution and a California Tort Claims Act violation, specifying that the defendants “wrongfully and intentionally exercised control and dominion over Plaintiff[’]s personal property.” Agro Dynamics seeks compensatory, punitive, and statutory damages in addition to its attorneys’ fees and costs.

Agro Dynamics is represented by E. Wicker Law Office.