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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Septic License Holder's Due Process Case Against County Can Continue

Last week, the Seventh Circuit allowed a Brown County, Indiana man to continue his federal lawsuit against the County for his claims that the County violated his due process rights.

John Simpson owned a septic installation company in Brown County, and held a County license to install and repair septic systems. On May 31, 2013, Simpson received a letter from a County Health Officer, Paul Page, demanding that he immediately repair a septic system, and if Simpson failed to do so, his license could be revoked. A second letter was sent to Simpson on June 14, 2013 informing him that his name was being removed from the list of approved septic contractors and, therefore, would have his license rescinded. Simpson was not told of the law or regulation that he violated in order to have his license revoked, and was not given any opportunity for a hearing or an appeal of the revocation.

Simpson sued, and his case made its way to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. That Court overturned the district court’s dismissal of Simpson’s case against the County, allowing his case to move forward.  The Seventh Circuit focused primarily on the power and discretion the County’s septic ordinance gave their health officers. Under the established procedures of the County’s septic ordinance, a County Health Officer has broad discretion to remove any worker who demonstrates an “inability or unwillingness to comply” with the ordinance. This allowed these officers to act without giving people like Simpson any right to be heard before their license was taken from them. The Court noted that there was no reason to believe that the cost of basic procedures (such as notice and a hearing) would be so unduly burdensome to deny a pre-deprivation process to Simpson.

In sum, the Seventh Circuit held that Simpson has stated a claim for a violation of procedural due process, allowing his case to continue.

Post Authored by Katherine Takiguchi, Ancel Glink


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