In a notice reported delivered Monday, April 8, Alison Brown has filed a constitutional rights lawsuit in District 11 Court against Chaffee County, the Chaffee County Board of Review, Chaffee County Commissioners, as well as the Director of Development Services Dan Swallow and Planning Manager Jon Roorda.
“It’s not unexpected, but I need to see it before we could comment on it,” said Chaffee County Attorney Jenny Davis, when called early Friday afternoon.
The suit filed in court March 28 by Brown’s attorneys, Charlie Cain and Michael Scott, alleges constitutional claims for damages related to “Chaffee County’s actions and inactions related to Dr. Brown’s property on Antelope Road.” Brown owns 11600 Antelope Road as well as the parcel directly to the south, 11555 Antelope Road. The properties have been at the center of an ongoing saga related to Brown’s horse stables, alleged outfitting activities and her attempts to obtain a permit for her kennel of American foxhounds which she directs as a Master of Foxhounds.
The filing says the conduct of Chaffee County “through its staff and governmental units, rendered Dr. Brown homeless for a period of approximately five months, forcing her to dry camp on her two parcels during the middle of winter, suffering severe emotional and physical distress as well as substantial economic harm associated with the denial of the use of her land, the loss of investments made in her properties and ultimately, the expense associated with relocating her foxhounds and ‘outfitting facilities’ to another county.”
The lawsuit goes on to say that Chaffee County deprived Brown of her property rights in violation of constitutional protections by first granting Brown a permit to construct her home, certifying her lawful use and zoning compliance, only to subsequently and substantially alter its position and determine her use is unlawful. “Under this new position, states the complaint, the county actively targeted Brown,” applying unconstitutionally vague and overbroad definitions of the Chaffee County Land Use Code (CCLUC); refused to issue a Certificate of Occupancy and camping permits to Brown; while amended definitions and retrospectively adjusting CCLUC to limit her constitutional rights.”
The saga began even before August 2016, the first date cited referenced in the filing. The county’s actions include court action that kept Brown from her home, multiple re-definitions of kennels, and vague definitions of what constitutes an ‘outfitter’ (most recently at Brown’s March 27 appeal to the county on the permanent injunction on an outfitting permit, which they rejected).
The filing indicates the county appeared overly-interested in the lawsuits filed against Brown by nearby residents Chris Vely and Laura Barton, which concluded last summer with District Court awarding Brown more than $500,000 in damages (paid for by Vely’s insurance). In fact, during the course of the Brown/Vely lawsuit, county officials Dan Swallow, Jon Roorda and Jenny Davis, met with Vely at his residence, ostensibly to inspect the site for noise-related complaints. None of these officials contacted Brown about their visit.
When Brown was denied a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) to move into her new home at 11600 Antelope Road, Swallow’s statement on the record was that Brown was being denied a CO due to her defiance of the county.
The county then announced that Brown could receive her CO, but only if she gave up her right to function as a Master of Foxhounds, and no longer rode out on horseback from her land to the adjoining Bureau of Land Management public lands. Another condition included that she would no longer allow friends who might happen to be fox hunters to come to her home.
After a set of actions that saw the county changed the number of dogs allowed on rural properties at least twice, the county claimed that by owning two neighboring parcels, that Brown had therefore legally combined them and could, therefore, keep no more than seven dogs. When Brown appealed Roorda’s administrative interpretation, it was rejected 17 days after the appeal on March 2, with reference to violation of CCLUC Article 1.3.3.B2.a. At that point, the new change to the land use code had not even been adopted.
In May 2018, District 11 Judge Amanda Hunter granted the county’s request for a permanent injunction requiring that “Brown received a permit to operate an outfitting facility” before the injunction is lifted. But the judge also raised the question of whether the county’s actions against Brown might constitute a “constitutional challenge to the vagueness and overbreadth of the CCLUC’s definition of outfitting facilities.” The court acknowledged that “the county’s definition of outfitting facilities may sweep in conduct that is as benign as a grandfather taking his grandson out for a horseback ride.”
“People kept telling me ‘you can’t fight city hall.’ They are wrong though – the Constitution gives citizens the power and ability to hold government accountable for their actions,” said Brown. “When I saw how ineffective the internal checks and balances were within Chaffee County for curbing abuse of power, when I saw county staff continue to use threats and coercion to attempt to shut down legal operations based on individual complaints, and when I saw the commissioners ignore their own ethics policy and refuse to conduct an independent investigation of actions by the county staff, I realized I had to stand up and trust the court to correct Chaffee County’s unconstitutional actions.”
The suit asks claims of relief under the 14th Amendment due process and equal protection clause, which prohibits the government from depriving individuals of life, liberty or property unless it provides a process that includes due and adequate procedural safeguards. The suit also asserts claims under the First Amendment to the extent that these provisions are overbroad and impact her ability to peacefully assemble on public land.
Editor’s acknowledgment: Alison Brown is an investor in Ark Valley Voice.