12 There are no First Amendment protections for cypress trees,

from Joseph v. City of San JoseA lawsuit brought by self-described “astrologer” Raun Joseph, and decided yesterday by Magistrate Judge Robert Illman (N.D. Cal.):

… Plaintiff’s neighbor installed some lighting equipment that had the effect of illuminating a portion of Plaintiff’s home, as well as several trees and shrubs on Plaintiff’s property. Briefly, the plaintiff was somewhat displeased with his neighbor’s use of that light fixture so he constructed certain large polyurethane panels to block the light; {plaintiff [had] believed that his neighbor’s “lamps were harming the plaintiff’s trees by attracting insects, and [] Plaintiff was concerned for the health of his tree which is indicated by the Celtic Cross in Plaintiff’s yard as a symbol of Plaintiff’s religious beliefs and placed in and between Plaintiff. [c]Ypres tree.”}

[W]When the City of San Jose alleged that the panels (as well as the plaintiff’s cypress trees) violated certain municipal code provisions, citations were issued, and then administrative proceedings began, and the final result was that the plaintiff removed the polyurethane panels himself but cut down or removed his trees. need not, or pay any penalty or fee, and the instant suit notwithstanding. [Plaintiff was also required to prune certain vines between the trees] …

Plaintiff’s first claim relies on the First Amendment and suggests that his “trees are expressions, symbols of his religious beliefs, and a protected form of speech” and that “Defendants’ claim that Plaintiff destroy these trees is not only unlawful and without any legal authority. … But Violations of the First Amendment: Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech … Defendants must award plaintiffs damages, based on the formula of $2,500 per day per defendant, as a cause of action to compensate victims.” …

{Plaintiff denies having any religious affiliation or—strictly speaking—any religious beliefs, instead describing himself as a member of a more generalized and nebulous spirituality that he interprets as rooted in quantum physics and cosmic mechanics:

[A]In fact they are like spiritual beliefs and those beliefs are embedded in quantum physics in the sense that everything is related and everything is connected. The separation thing is an illusion at the level of quantum physics and I believe plants and trees have consciousness. When I go to the forest, I can almost feel the consciousness. I think some people mistake them for fairies or ghosts, but I think plants have a collective consciousness and experiments have shown that plants are aware of threats. Using galvanic monitoring of the tree, someone says I will burn you and the tree responds. And we also know that there are certain hormones and transmitters that plants—that are involved in changes in the human brain or neurotransmitters (sic), and we know that some people can help their plants grow by talking to them.

So, I believe that the spiritual belief about trees and that is related to quantum physics and it is also related to celestial mechanics. And in terms of trees, we have the Genesis Tree of Life in Genesis and then the Tree of Good and Evil, we know people put Christmas trees and put presents under it. Thus, the belief that trees have religious, spiritual significance is a very ancient religious belief.

Plaintiff proposed that he planted 12 cypress trees because he believed the number 12 had religious and cosmic significance—citing the fact that the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 disciples of Christ, the 12 hours (parts) of the day, the 12 signs of the zodiac, and the 12 gods of Olympus— He claims that “12 has been seen as a mystical, magical and religious symbol and, again, has cosmic significance.” He added that “as a reflection of my own faith, I planted 12 and I made sure it was 12 and then I put [the] Celtic cross as well as other religious symbols such as a Buddha because I share Buddhist beliefs and they are right in the front yard among those trees.” In short, the plaintiff is quite adamant that her feelings about her tree are not part of any set of religious beliefs – and certainly no organized or Not part of recognized religion; instead, to put it in his own words, he describes trees as: “They are still religious symbols—well, religious, not spiritual. Let us not use the word ‘religious’, others because it is a religious symbol, to me it is a spiritual … to me it is a spiritual symbol that carries religious significance.” When asked by the defense counsel what prevented him from removing the vines Whether from being able to perceive the “spirituality” of his tree – the plaintiff responded, “No. No.” Therefore, it appears that the vines were, at least, spiritually insignificant…}

Here, there are no genuine issues of material fact because: (1) the provisions of the San Jose Municipal Code requiring trees to be trimmed and kept below a certain height are valid and neutral regulations of general application that are not constitutionally cognizable or otherwise significant; burden on the plaintiff’s exercise of faith as he described in his deposition; (2) Plaintiff specifically denies religion, and claims that his connection to his tree is rooted in a vague and uncertain concept of spirituality, quantum physics, and cosmological mechanics; (3) Plaintiff has failed to prove that any of the actions alleged in his SAC affected any of his beliefs; and, (4) Plaintiff admitted that he was not even forced to cut down his trees, nor was he assessed any fines or penalties related to his trees.

To assert a free speech claim in this context, the plaintiff must show that the uninterrupted growth of his 12 cypress trees is “adequately tied to the elements of communication” worthy of the First Amendment’s free speech protection. To that end, the plaintiff must demonstrate (1) an “intent to convey a particular message” and (2) that, “under the circumstantial circumstances the likelihood was great that the message would be understood by those who saw it.” “[A] narrow, succinctly enunciable message is not a condition of constitutional protection”; instead, the message must be “delivered by conduct which is intended to be communicated and which, in the context, is reasonably understood by the audience to be communicative.” Plaintiffs say that even if no such allegation has been made, Let’s present the relevant evidence in support. To put it mildly, the court was not persuaded that there was no possibility—a “great probability”—that the uninterrupted growth of the 12 cypress trees here would be intended by the plaintiff, or that anyone would perceive, in any respect or that Can communicate to any degree….