WASHINGTON COUNTY – A Saratoga County-based nursery has filed a lawsuit against the Washington County sheriff, accusing deputies of illegally destroying more than 250 industrial hemp research plants.
Toadflax Nursery, based in South Glens Falls, had a state license to grow the plants and each plant had two tags identifying the owners and the state license. The sheriff’s department came upon them and destroyed them last year without checking any of the information provided and without legal cause.
“Defendants’ blatant destruction of Plaintiffs’ entirely legal property constituted, among other things, an unconstitutional search and seizure, occurred without any semblance of due process and with absolutely no finding of culpable or illegal conduct on behalf of Plaintiffs,” the suit filed last week in state Supreme Court in Washington County reads.
The suit names the county, Sheriff Jeffrey J. Murphy and several employees of the department as defendants. County Attorney Roger Wickes declined to comment last week, citing a policy not to comment on pending litigation.
Toadflax Nursery, Z&M Farm and Richard W. Morris Jr., the managing member of both Toadflax and Z&M Farm are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Z&M Farm is described as the owner of the property. They are represented by Albany-based attorneys William J. Keniry and Thomas R. Fallati.
The incident happened the night of Oct. 1, 2019, and began as sheriff’s deputies patrolled near the Toadflax property on County Route 43, the suit reads.
Deputies spotted a group of individuals exiting a field near the property at about 9 p.m. and walking toward a vehicle on County Route 43, the suit reads. Deputies then stopped the car and saw a small pile of plants laying on the side of the road.
They then called for additional units and began interviews. Within an hour, the defendants had entered the property and began pulling and uprooting the plants, which were all growing in cultivated soil there, the suit reads.
Toadflax’ license to grow the plants had been granted by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets in May 2019, the suit reads.
Toadflax also followed “sound practices” in positioning the plants out of sight from passing pedestrians and traffic and included the company name, address and phone number, along with the industrial hemp plant strain on each of the two tags affixed to the plants, the suit reads.
“The Plants were clearly labeled with tags indicating ownership by the Plaintiffs,” the suit reads. “Despite the dual identification tags attached to each plant, the Defendants failed to notify the Plaintiffs of Defendants’ presence on the property and continued to destroy the Plants.”
No specific monetary damages are identified in the suit. The company is alleging unconstitutional search and seizure, violation of due process, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.