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Ventura County Property Owner Prevails in Court of Appeals — First Amendment Challenge Upheld

JMBM client Epona LLC, a Ventura County property owner denied a conditional use permit to use its 40-acre working ranch and world class vineyard for outdoor weddings, prevailed against the County in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, clearing the way for it to proceed with its plans.

On December 7, 2017, the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dismissing Epona’s First Amendment claim and denying Epona’s motion for preliminary injunction, recognizing that a plaintiff can challenge a permitting scheme giving officials unbridled discretion to approve or deny applications without specific objective criteria. Referencing the county’s Non-Coastal Zoning Ordinance under which Epona’s application was denied, the Court wrote: “The zoning ordinance–imposed no definite standards on permit decisions nor any limitation on the time period within which a permit must be approved–provided unbridled discretion on permitting officials in violation of the First Amendment*”.

Epona’s sole owner, Michael Fowler, made a significant investment preparing his property as a wedding venue. The County concluded that Epona’s plans would not cause significant adverse impacts upon the community. Nevertheless, the County’s planning commission denied his application for a permit to conduct weddings. Fowler has spent two years since that time, advocating for his rights, ultimately prevailing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

For more information contact JMBM land use attorneys:

Matthew D. Hinks 310.201.3558
Benjamin M. Reznik 310.201.3572

*Epona, LLC v. County of Ventura – filed Dec. 7, 2017
Cite as 2017 S.O.S. 17-55472