Starting a business is tough. Running a business can be even tougher. Trying to run a business while locked in a very public standoff with the local government? Now that's really tough.
That's what brothers Gary and Matt Percy have been dealing with in their effort to run a Christmas tree farm within the limits of the township of Canton, Michigan.
So what started all this?
The Percy brothers originally made headlines last year when they were hit with $450,000 in fines over tree removals on property they intended to turn into a tree farm. The local township said the Percys didn't get the proper permits to clear the trees to in order to make room to plant other trees. The brothers took the matter to court and their lawyer at the time said they used a farming exemption; that case is still pending.
The fight even spurred a legislative effort in Lansing to rein in local "tree police" in the form of a bill that would have banned aggressive local ordinances governing smaller trees and vegetation in commercial or agricultural areas.
Now, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) — which is also helping the Percy brothers out with their lawsuit regarding the tree removal fines — is representing the brothers in a First Amendment harassment suit against the township, claiming that since going to the press about their situation, local authorities have engaged in bureaucratic retaliation against them.
The brothers' federal complaint says that, after the brothers went to the press about the fines, the township started sending code enforcement officers to their other businesses to look for possible code infractions not tied to the tree farm. According to that complaint, Canton issued a violation notice on May 30, which said the Percys didn't have occupancy certificates for buildings they've been using for decades.
TPPF says that the lawsuit is being filed under 42 U.S. Code § 1983, which provides a civil remedy for "deprivation of rights," and is asks for the harassment to stop so the initial case about the fines can proceed "and the brothers can operate their businesses without interference."
"You don't want government to have the power to shut down constitutional litigation that way," Weldon, told Hometown Life. "They just kind of came at our clients with both barrels. You can't do that. It violates our clients' rights."
Township lawyer Kristin Kolb declined to comment on the case in an email to The Center Square on Wednesday.
"Neither Canton Township nor any of the individual defendants have been served with the lawsuit yet," Kolb said. "I cannot comment on something the Township has not been served with."