Riverside v. Inland Empire Health: Summary of procedural history and comment

Summary of case history:

January 2009: City of Riverside sends Inland Empire Patients Health & Wellness center, a non-profit collaborative Medical Marijuana Dispensary (MMD) notice that City Zoning ordinance prohibits MMD’s

May 2010: City of riverside files suit against individuals associated with Inland Empire Center as well as the Center, the property owner and the property manager, stating that the Center is a public Medicinal Marijuana Lawnuisance and asking for a Preliminary Injunction that would prohibit the Center from operating.

November 2010: Trial court in Riverside county grants the motion for a preliminary injunction prohibing the Center from operating. The court held that Riverside could use zoning regulations to prohibit Medical Marijuana Dispensaries under City of Claremont v. Kruse.  Further, the court showed its unabashed hostility towards California Medical Marijuana Laws, stating that this was correct “especially given the conflict between state and federal law”.

November 2011: California court of appeals issued its ruling for City of Riverside. The court extensively examined the issue of preemption. The legal theory of Preemption in California is found in the California Constitution as follows:

Under article XI, section 7 (California Constitution), “[a] county or city may make and
enforce within its limits all local, police, sanitary, and other ordinances and regulations not in
conflict with general laws.” “`If otherwise valid local legislation conflicts with state law, it is
preempted by such law and is void.'”

In my humble opinion…

The court states that the Medical Marijuana Program Statutes (bill 420) only provides limited criminal immunity for the use, cultivation, and possession of medical marijuana and that because City of Riverside passed a civil ordinance, it doesn’t conflict with State medical Marijuana Law

In essence, the court holds that a local municipality can create a zoning  “ordinance”  banning medical marijuana dispensaries, essentially without giving a reason.  Then they can call dispensaries public nuisances on the SOLE fact that they are not in compliance with the local zoning law and shut them down.

Rather circular thinking, I think.


The theory of Nuisance has a specific legal definition:

“The two types of nuisance are private nuisance and public nuisance. A private nuisance is a civil wrong; it is the unreasonable, unwarranted, or unlawful use of one’s property in a manner that substantially interferes with the enjoyment or use of another individual’s property, without an actual Trespass or physical invasion to the land.  A public nuisance is a criminal wrong; it is an act or omission that obstructs, damages, or inconveniences the rights of the community.”

If a dispensary is operating in a responsible manner, and in compliance with California Law, I find it difficult to label them a “nuisance”, either public or private.  Both theories are based on some kind of harm being done to another.

As it stands right now,  local government can use circular logic, rather than specific behavior that a dispensary or all dispensaries are causing harm to anybody, and declare Medical Marijuana Dispensaries nuisances.

Hopeful outcome

It is my hope that the outcome of Riverside v. Inland Empire Health, if nothing else, will prompt the California legislature to add a provision to existing law that prevents local governments from outright banning Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.

-Sean Ramsey, AttorneyLow Cost divorce and Prop 215 law
January 2012

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Inland Empire Center is a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation established for the purpose of facilitating an MMD located in Riverside. Inland Empire Center’s MMD is a nonprofit collaborative association of patient members, who collectively cultivate medical marijuana and redistribute it to each other. Inland Empire Center has operated its MMD in Riverside since 2009.

Defendant Lanny Swerdlow (Swerdlow) is a registered nurse and manager of an adjacent, separate medical clinic, THCF Medical Clinic, unassociated with the MMD. Defendant William Joseph Sump II is an Inland Empire Center board member and general manager of Inland Empire Center’s Riverside MMD. Defendants Meneleo Carlos and Filomena Carlos (the Carloses) own the property upon which the MMD is located and lease the

[ 200 Cal.App.4th 892 ]

property to Swerdlow. Defendant Angel City West, Inc. (Angel), provides management services for the property.

In January 2009, Riverside’s Community Development Department planning division sent Swerdlow a letter stating that Riverside’s zoning code prohibits MMD’s in Riverside. In May 2010, Riverside filed a complaint against Angel, Swerdlow, Sump,4 the Carloses, East West Bancorp, Inc.,5 and THCF Health and Wellness Center,6 for injunctive relief to abate public nuisance. The complaint alleges Inland Empire Center’s MMD constitutes a public nuisance, in violation of Riverside’s zoning code, Riverside Municipal Code (RMC) section 6.15.020.Q. Riverside notified Swerdlow of the violation. Nevertheless, Swerdlow continues to operate the MMD.

Riverside’s complaint includes two causes of action, both alleging public nuisance, and prays for injunctive relief enjoining Inland Empire Center from operating its MMD in Riverside. Riverside alleges in the complaint that Inland Empire Center is located in a commercial zone. Under Riverside’s zoning code, MMD’s are prohibited. (RMC, §§ 19.150.020, 19.910.140.) Riverside’s zoning code further states that any use which is prohibited by state and/or federal law is strictly prohibited in Riverside. (RMC, § 19.150.020.) Any violation of Riverside’s municipal code is deemed a public nuisance under RMC sections 1.01.110 and 6.15.020.Q. Inland Empire Center’s MMD violates Riverside’s zoning code and is therefore a public nuisance subject to abatement.

Riverside filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, seeking to close Inland Empire Center’s MMD in Riverside. Riverside Police Detective Darren Woolley (Woolley) concluded in his supporting declaration that the medical clinic, “THCF Medical Clinic,” where Swerdlow worked as a nurse, was connected to Inland Empire Center’s MMD and referred patients to the MMD. Riverside requested the trial court to take judicial notice of various documents, including a report entitled, “California Police Chiefs Association’s Task Force On Marijuana Dispensaries” and a report by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, entitled, “Medical Marijuana: History and Current Complications.” Inland Empire Center objected to judicial notice of these documents. The court did not rule on the judicial notice request.

In support of Inland Empire Center’s opposition to Riverside’s motion for a preliminary injunction, Swerdlow states in his declaration that he managed the medical clinic Woolley claimed was associated with the MMP. According

[ 200 Cal.App.4th 893 ]

to Swerdlow, the medical clinic is not connected with the MMD. Woolley erroneously referred to Inland Empire Center’s MMD as the THCF Medical Clinic, which is at a different location nearby.

Inland Empire Center’s general manager, Sump, also provided a declaration supporting Inland Empire Center’s opposition, stating that Inland Empire Center had advised Riverside that it would be operating an MMD in Riverside. Sump further stated that Inland Empire Center had been lawfully operating its MMD and it did not constitute a nuisance to the surrounding community.

On November 24, 2010, the trial court heard Riverside’s motion for a preliminary injunction and granted the motion, concluding City of Claremont v. Kruse (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 1153 [100 Cal.Rptr.3d 1] (Kruse) controlled and therefore Riverside could use zoning regulations to prohibit MMD’s, “especially given the conflict between state and federal law.” The trial court added it was not finding that federal law preempted state law in this instance. The court acknowledged there was case law holding that there was no federal law preemption. The trial court entered a written order enjoining Inland Empire Center from operating its MMD on the Carloses’ property.



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California Supreme Court Marijuana Cases in 2012

Here is a summary of the pending cases to be heard By the CA Supreme Court.  There are four cases, and we will be giving extensive information on the issues to be decided in the coming months. Stay tuned, because as soon as the court announces the schedule for oral arguments, we will send out word.

  • City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient’s Health & Wellness Center, Inc., S198638. (E052400; 200 Cal.App.4th 885; Riverside County Superior Court; RIC10009872.) Petition for review after the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in a civil action.
  • People v. G3 Holistic, Inc., S198395. (E051663; nonpublished opinion; San Bernardino County Superior Court; CIVRS1002649.) Petition for review after the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in a civil action.
  • Pack v. Superior Court, S197169. (B228781; 199 Cal.App.4th 1070; Los Angeles County Superior Court; NC055010.) Petition for review after the Court of Appeal granted a petition for peremptory writ of mandate.
  • Traudt v. City of Dana Point, S197700. (G044130; 199 Cal.App.4th 886; Orange County Superior Court; 30-2010-00373287.) Petition for review after the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal in a civil action.

These cases present issues concerning preemption, under federal or state law, of local ordinances regulating or banning the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries and related activities, and standing to challenge such ordinances.

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