A federal appeals panel on Wednesday dismissed a Colorado Springs woman’s lawsuit alleging city employees violated her constitutional rights when attempting an occupancy check of a cannabis-themed establishment.
Candace Aguilera claimed that a Colorado Springs police officer and two fire marshalls confronted her in July 2017 outside of “GreenFaithMinistry,” where she was reportedly the property manager, a volunteer and “High Priestess.”
Fire Marshall Danielle McClarin told Aguilera the officials needed to check the building’s occupancy, but Aguilar declined to let them enter. McClarin reportedly responded, “If you do not let us in, nobody will be allowed in.”
Aguilera, who leased rooms inside the strip-mall location, entered the ministry and locked the doors, prompting Officer Roger Vargason to tell her she would be in trouble if she did not allow them in. Aguilera asked if they had a warrant, and Vargason responded that “you have an illegal grow in there.”
Aguilera filed a federal complaint alleging violations of the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion and the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unlawful search and seizure. She also noted that at one point Vargason instructed her to “praise the lord,” which she interpreted as a government official inappropriately endorsing a religion. A district court judge dismissed her claims, finding no unconstitutional infringement happened at the property, which is now listed under the name Sinsemillas House of Worship.
Upon review, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld the dismissal, finding the officials did not interfere with her worship activities while at the building. Even though Vargason took photographs of her car’s license plate, she had no grounds to sue for an unreasonable search. Finally, the fire marshall’s threat that “nobody will be allowed in” was not an illegal seizure of the property.
“We conclude that Aguilera has standing to advance this claim to the extent it is based on her leasing of two rooms in the building. But she fails to allege that any defendant meaningfully interfered with her possessory interests in the building,” wrote Judge Nancy L. Moritz.
The case is Aguilera v. City of Colorado Springs et al.