Tulsa Woman Sues City For Destroying Her Garden

Denise Morrison of Tulsa, Oklahoma gardens. Every single plant in her yard was edible. Some were medicinal and used by her to treat her diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis. Others were fruit or nut trees. Some were vegetables. All of them were well-tended.

Last year, the city received a complaint against her yard. Knowing that everything in her garden and yard was up to code, she took the citation to court last August. The judge ruled to postpone the case until October. Three days later she came home and found city workers digging up her garden, removing thousands of dollars worth of plants as well has her only source of food at the time. (She was unemployed.)

The city did not have permission to do this — either from her or the court. She lost everything.

Watch the video.

When her case finally did go to court, the judge dismissed the citation against her garden. Turns out Ms. Morrison was right. Her garden was up to code.

Too bad she’d already had her local government officials step in without authorization and destroy her property.

They even cut down some of her trees -– ones that bore fruit and nuts -– and went up next to her house and basically removed everything in her front flower bed.

“I came back three days later, sat in my driveway, cried and left,” Morrison said.

Morrison said she had a problem at her last property with code enforcement, so this time, she read the ordinance, which says plants can’t be over 12-inches tall unless they’re used for human consumption. She made sure everything she grew could be eaten, which she told the inspectors.

“Every word out of their mouth was, ‘we don’t care,'” Morrison said.

Morrison said she used many of the plants that were destroyed to treat her diabetes, high-blood pressure and arthritis.

“Not only are the plants my livelihood, they’re my food and I was unemployed at the time and had no food left, no medicine left, and I didn’t have insurance,” Morrison said. “They took away my life and livelihood.”


Now, she’s suing the city for violating her civil rights.

Here’s hoping she wins!

If this story sounds familiar, that’s because it’s not the first one like it I’ve told. Remember Amy Becerra’s story from last summer?

What is it with these local governments overstepping their bounds? Do you have a similar story to share? How did it turn out?

(photo by wiccked)


  1. says

    plants can’t be over 12 inches unless used for human consumption? So, no oak trees? no pine?

    I hope she gets justice, though that will take years. We just need smaller governments (local, state and federal) and less regulation.

    • Kathleen K says

      No shrubs either, unless of course, you eat them! Shame on the city. I hope she wins. Not just on principle, but also for damages. Including pain and suffering.

    • KristenM says

      I’m thinking they’re specifically talking about garden plants. They’re unsuccessfully trying to draw a distinction between weeds (which are unsightly and represent a fire hazard) and purposeful plants.

      • says

        My day lilies are over 12 inches. Cannas much taller, sun flowers taller. Goodness. I can see an ordinance saying “weeds will be kept short” and then go on to discuss what makes a weed (good luck there, no one can quite agree!). Or perhaps “yard should be kept tidy”.

        If the 12 inch rule is about garden plants, then the city really screwed up taking down fruit trees.

    • Jennifer says

      Less regulation is what gave us Monsanto and the current recession. What we need are fewer authoritarian bullies who work on behalf of the wealthy in government and law enforcement. Intimidating citizens is all part of the plan to keep us from getting angry enough to take to the streets.

    • Wayne Rivali says

      I agree. Tulsa needs to hear an earful from concerned people around the globe. Not only should they be sued, they should be spanked.

  2. Michelle Stumpf via Facebook says

    I totally disagree with what the town did, but with other reports that I have read about this, I think there is another side of the story that we haven’t been given.

  3. Laura says

    We all just have to keep fighting by doing what we can to insure the individual freedoms to grow and eat our own food are less regulated. I feel that this is happening bit by bit with Cottage food laws and easing of urban farming regulations etc. But clearly the individual is being too closely regulated. Support your neighbor in foodscaping their yards, they just may share with you.
    We need individual rights, but for that to happen as individuals we need to support diversity of thought in our communities. That means talking with your neighbor who has chickens, and food growing in the front yard. If we don’t do it larger entities will impose their will on us.

  4. Erin says

    Sounds awful but it would be helpful if you tried to not lump the Becerra situation in with the City of Tulsa situation. The Becerra situation involves a homeowner’s association, which is a private entity not a governmental entity. An HOA is led by the people who live in the community and they enforce the rules of the community; if the community desires to change their rules, they have the power to make changes to the rules. The Tulsa situation, on the other hand, sounds terrible and does appear to involve local government. Not trying to be picky but it is VERY easy to villify government using real examples so there is no need to classify private issues as those caused by govt.

    • KristenM says

      I guess I have to respectfully disagree. I believe HOAs *are* a form of government — as local as it comes. They’re only private in that the community they represent is only as big as the neighborhood. But, if you live in that neighborhood, the tactics you would use to change HOA rules & enforcement are much the same that you would use at a town or city level. HOAs are organized along much the same lines as a city council, and they can be taken over and/or publicly embarrassed along the same lines.

  5. Linda Linchy says

    I would very much appreciate updates about the result of this lady’s lawsuit. I think we are all tired of hearing about how those “in service” to the public suddenly decide that they are now rightfully ‘Militia’ instead.
    It’s hard teaching our children about “Officer Friendly” when they come out in droves and full battle gear for every incident- albeit not in a case like this, but generally, and of course it all costs big bucks. (Gee! Guess who foots the bill?) Thanks

  6. Cara says

    I hope that news station continues coverage of this and FOX or some other widely circulated media picks up on it. Seems the only way to win against city hall these days is to embarrass the snot out of Gov’t agencies and personel. They walked all over her Constitutional rights and she deserves a speedy case and restoration plus medical/emotional damages. Is there a petition or something set up for all of us to sign? The People need to help this woman or We’re next!

  7. Jan Stephens says

    Oh that just makes me sick!! There is such ignorance not just of the law but of the real benefit of plants and trees. I feel so sorry she had to endure that. I guess she should have just allowed her diabetes etc to run rampant and end up in the ER!

  8. Mary Hansen via Facebook says

    This is appalling… I hope she wins her lawsuit and the city has to pay to have all the plants replanted plus more monetary compensation for her pain and suffering. Another example of government out of control! According to what was stated, the plants were acceptable as they were edible… so I don’t understand why they were all pulled up?! Also, the ‘before’ and ‘after’ shows it looked terrible after they dug up the plants. So, the city thinks a ripped up, shabby yard looks better than the thriving plants. RIDICULOUS!

  9. says

    What I find notable is that there seems to have been previous issues between Ms. Morrison and the City of Tulsa. Before everyone gets their knickers in a knot believe me when I say I think that the city was obviously wrong in the way they conducted themselves. I also believe that Ms. Morrison wasn’t harming anyone (aesthetically or otherwise) and therefore no intervention was required by city authorities on the behalf of her neighbors, but there was obviously an oversight in her industriousness. I have personally pushed the boundaries of both my city’s ordinances and my neighbor’s understanding in my own endeavors to actively use my property for something other than beauty bark and lawn. That said I have also learned how important it is to maintain a open and positive relationship with my community in order to educate and change the idea of what is “normal” as well as to be diligent in complying with the cities required licensing and insurance requirements when applicable. Human nature is petty at times and I’m not so sure that this is as much about control of our food as it is repercussion of poor communication and past indifference to authority being amplified by the media because it is a hot button topic. If everyone ranting about the persecution and government control (which is exampled in this story) took the time to attend their own city counsel meetings with the intention of developing healthy lines of communication and a strong working relationship with the authorities making decisions on city development we would start to see change. Screaming outrage & disrespect is a waste of energy that could be focused on practical solutions on a local level. Like Benny said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 😉

    • Melisa says

      This woman is hardly ‘screaming’ outrage and disrespect. It’s a simple case of government overstepping it boundaries. Hopefully they will be made to pay reparations in full.

  10. Elisabeth M says

    When you post stories like this, you should include an action line at the bottom. I know I was outraged when I saw this story, and I shared it, and it looks like my social network is equally outraged – but anger without action is like a fire without water to boil. Suggestions on the water? What might a blog reader do to help?

    • KristenM says

      Well, normally if there is a tangible action we can do, I *do* list something — contact information for the local government officials in charge of the case, judges, congressmen. (You can see an example of this in my post on how Michigan Ordered the Slaughter of all Heritage Breed Pigs.)

      Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do here.

      The city has already destroyed her garden. The judge has already ruled in her favor, proving that the offensive action by the city was utterly unnecessary and illegal. Now, she’s suing for civil damages.

      That’s not the sort of case that needs public support to sway opinions, is it?

      It’s not like we need to lobby to change a law. She upheld the law, and city officials overstepped their bounds.

      It’s not like we need to lobby to get her acquitted. She’s already been cleared of any charges against her.

      I really don’t see *what* we can do except be more aware of our own local ordinances and get involved in our own local governments. When your city council is voting on whether or not you should be allowed to keep chickens within city limits, for example, you need to be aware and step in to speak out for that right. When the city council has passed an egregious rule saying you can’t grow food in your front yard, you need to be aware and step in to speak out for that right.

      If you want something to do today, I can give you something to do. :)

      It’s totally unrelated to this story, but the senate is voting today or tomorrow on amendments to the Farm Bill. You can call your senator’s office and urge them to:

      1) Vote YES on the Sanders-Boxer Amendment #2310 to recognize the States’ rights to require labeling of genetically engineered foods.

      State efforts to require labeling of genetically engineered foods have been met with threats that the Biotech industry will sue any state that dares pass such a low. The Sanders-Boxer amendment would explicitly provide that “a State may require that any food, beverage, or other edible product offered for sale in that State have a label on the container or package of the food, beverage, or other edible product, indicating that the food, beverage, or other edible product contains a genetically engineered ingredient.”

      The Sanders-Boxer amendment would also require the FDA and USDA to provide a report within the next two years to specify how much of our country’s food and beverages contain genetically engineered ingredients.

      2) Vote YES on the DeMint Amendment #2276 to stop mandatory Checkoff programs.

      There are currently 18 mandatory “Checkoff” programs. Under these programs, anytime a farmer sells a cow or a gallon of milk or any o other covered commodity, the farmer is legally required to pay a fee to industry-run organizations. These funds are used to pay for things such as the “Got Milk?” and “Pork, the other white meat” advertising campaigns.

      The problem is that these advertising campaigns benefit primarily the retailers and grocery stores, not the farmers. Yet the farmers are stuck paying the bills.

      When it comes to raw milk, the industry adds insult to injury by promoting only pasteurized milk product and even running ads against raw milk – even as they require raw milk farmers to pay to support those ads.

      The DeMint amendment would bar any Checkoff program from being mandatory. If producers wish to fund a joint advertising campaign, they still can, but they would no longer be coerced to support advertising efforts that are not in their interest.

      If you don’t know who represents you, you can find out at http://www.senate.gov or call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.

      (And YES! I’m always full of such goodies. I wish I had more time to blog; I’d share them all!)

    • Jen says

      No, the corporations want you to be dependent upon THEM and THEY control the government. Follow the money. In a true democracy-like they have in Iceland and Sweden- the government serves the people, not corporate interests.

  11. Bebe says

    I am so sick of our “advanced” municipal ordinances and HOA covenants, codes and restrictions. On the one hand I can understand trying to avoid having someone move in next door and paint their house a day glo pink but seriously, people act so snooty for no just cause.
    I live in a subdivision that allows one farm animal for the first two acres of lot size. In addition we are allowed up to 10 chickens. After that we are allowed one additional farm animal (excluding pigs, ridiculously enough) per additional useable acre. Our lot is five acres so I could reasonably have 4 cows plus ten chickens. I do have chickens and I let them free range during the day, cooped up at night for their safety.
    Recently I received complaints that my chickens were not properly fenced in. Mind you, my hens do not leave our property. We have taught them to stay away from the nearest neighbor’s property line because it is the closest and they have dogs inside an invisible fence. At the recent yearly HOA meeting there was a complainant who said they’d contacted animal control about my chickens and were told I was required to keep them fenced and that animal control could come take my chickens! Seriously? Do people have nothing better to do than watch over others business?
    I live in a rather rural small town about an hour outside of Anchorage, Alaska. Who’da thunk?

    • KristenM says

      We had a neighbor who had chickens once. We also had holes in our fence, so the chickens would cross into our backyard and sometimes lay eggs. We kept the eggs as our “happy tax” and never once thought to complain.

  12. zadok says

    The people with the city who made the decision to trespass and destroy her property need to be made to pay for what was destroyed out of their own bank account, right before they go to prison

  13. Quanah says

    Does anyone know how to reach Denise Morrison. A Civil lawsuit is not enough. Every city “official” should be charged with a crime in their private capacities… Trespassing, Theft, Breach of the Peace, Breach of their Oaths, Organized Crime, Racketeering etc. None of them should be in “office” or in any position of authority or honor. They are dishonorable, unlawful, and unauthentic. Impostors!!! Treasonous Traitors to the Rule of Law.

  14. Charlie S3 says

    I’m a retired atty, and am active in Land Use in my town (member of the Zoning and Wetlands Commissions). I agree that is is ridiculous and overreaching.

    I believe that she should prevail in court, but I suspect she may have difficulty proving what was in her yard. This may affect her case (was everything edible ?), also will affect her compensation (how many tomato plants did she lose ?).

    Anyone else who may be in a similar situation would be wise to make a periodic photographic inventory.


  15. says

    Never live in the cities. Ever. The idea that city officials can come onto private property and destroy it is simply unbelievable and it shows the total contempt of modern government for the rights of private property. Get out of the cities. And buy a shotgun.

  16. Denise Morrison says

    I would like to thank everyone for your support. I am posting regularly on KOTV Channel 6. There will be a followup airing this week. Stay with this as I hope many of your questions will be answered. Denise Morrison

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