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Guest Contributor
Timothy M. Sandefur
Timothy Sandefur is an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation which filed a friend of the court brief in Wayne County v. Hathcock.[go to Guest index]

Controlling Pests Or Controlling Competition?
Legislating business out of business...

[Timothy M. Sandefur] 9/6/04

In May Pacific Legal Foundation filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Bay Area business owner Alan Merrifield, charging the state with imposing a harsh and needless licensing requirement on his decades-old pest control business. The state’s pest control law is supposed to protect the public from the misuse of chemicals or pesticides, but Mr. Merrifield does not use chemicals. Instead of protecting the public, the law is being used to protect established pest control companies from having to compete with Mr. Merrifield and his company, Urban Wildlife Management.

Urban Wildlife is highly respected and experienced. For over 30 years, Mr. Merrifield has used screens, nets, and other nonchemical methods in homes and businesses to ward off rats, pigeons, and other pests. Urban Wildlife has 6 state licenses and over 15 special training certifications, and provides services in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Alameda Counties.

Recently, California bureaucrats started demanding that Mr. Merrifield obtain yet another license—a so-called “Branch 2 Structural Pest Control Operator’s License.” The requirements for obtaining a Branch 2 license are onerous: applicants must pass a 200-question test on the proper methods of chemical use, but no one may take the exam without first serving a two-year apprenticeship for a company that already has a Branch 2 license. The penalties under the law are serious, too. Practicing structural pest control without a license is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and fines of up to $4,000.

Although the 66-year-old Merrifield has three decades of pest control experience, getting a Branch 2 License would mean closing his business for two years to become an apprentice. State transportation officials have refused to allow his company to bid on the installation of pigeon exclusion spikes on the San Francisco Trans Bay Terminal because he lacks a Branch 2 license. Other bids by Urban Wildlife, including a project bid submitted for the Elihu Harris State Building in Oakland, have also been rejected for the same reason.

This case represents government bureaucracy at its worst. All Americans have the constitutional right to earn a living without unfair government interference. It is ridiculous that Mr. Merrifield would have to close his business for two years to become an apprentice in a field in which he is already more than qualified.

Along with Merrifield and his business, Pacific Legal Foundation is also representing the California Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators Association, a trade organization made up of people who use nonchemical pest control methods. Defendants in the suit are the members of the state’s Structural Pest Control Board and the Attorney General. CRO





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