Constitutional Law

Homeowner fined for sharing water loses appeal claiming law was unintelligible to the average person


An Idaho man fined $500 for providing water to a neighbor lost an appeal on Monday that claimed the law authorizing the penalty was unintelligible to the average person and an unconstitutional infringement on charitable conduct.

The Idaho Court of Appeals ruled against Michael Jay Freitas of Spirit Lake, the Idaho Spokesman-Review reports. Freitas had contended he was making a charitable gift when he ran a hose from his home to supply water to his neighbor, who had water service cut off for nonpayment. Freitas pointed out that he had paid for the water before he provided it to the neighbor.

Freitas had targeted the ordinance barring “delivery of water to third persons for use within a residence or other building not otherwise provided with water service in accordance with this chapter.” Freitas argued the law was vague because it was a “mishmash” of “garbled language” and “clumps of nonsense words” that are unintelligible to a person of average intelligence.

The appeals court disagreed. “The law is clear on its face,” the opinion (PDF) said, “prohibiting usurpation of the municipality’s regulatory authority over domestic water service by anyone who wishes to set themselves up as private providers of water.” The court also said that hooking up a hose to supply a nonpaying neighbor with water is “the quintessential example of the conduct the ordinance was designed to prohibit.”

The court also disagreed with Freitas’ arguments that the law exceeds the power granted to municipalities under the Idaho Constitution and that it unconstitutionally criminalizes his charitable conduct. The charitable argument was based on “conclusory assertions that charity must be protected under the state and federal constitutions,” the court said. “These assertions are unsupported by cogent argument or relevant authority applicable to the facts of this case.”

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