Panhandling & Solicitation

A homeless individual’s sign in Slidell, Lousiana. Source:

This week, a federal district court in Louisiana granted a motion for summary judgment invalidating the City of Slidell’s law requiring panhandlers to register and wear identification before soliciting donations.  In a lengthy but thorough order, the court found the city’s law, which applied only to individuals seeking to solicit donations of money or services, content based and unconstitutional, and issued a permanent injunction against enforcement of the law.

The backstory of Slidell’s “panhandler ID” law starts in 2015.  Since then, the city received 70 complaints relating to panhandling and solicitation, but only 14 were “connected to an identifiable individual.”  Because of the difficulty of tracking down panhandlers who were violating city laws, the city council passed an ordinance containing certain registration and identification requirements.  Specifically, the ordinance required individuals to complete an application at least 48 hours prior to panhandling.  To complete the application, a person was to physically appear at the police department between 9:00 and 5:00 on a weekday, fill out the written application (which required listing an address, telephone number, email, and other identifying information), and show a photo identification.  After a group of indigent individuals sued the city over the law, the city removed the 48-hour waiting period and required issuance of a permit for up to 72 hours of panhandling following filing of a complete application.  The 72-hour permit can be extended for up to a year on certain conditions. Continue Reading Louisiana Town’s “Panhandler ID” Law Struck Down

Late last month, a federal district court in Louisiana upheld the City of Shreveport’s ban on door-to-door commercial solicitation, finding that the ban was supported by a substantial governmental interest in community safety, and further finding that the ban directly advanced the government’s interest.  The plaintiff, Vivint Louisiana, LLC, is a maker and seller of residential home security systems that markets primarily through door-to-door solicitation.  Claiming that it was unable to conduct its business in Shreveport, Vivint sued the city.  The court found that the case was governed by Central Hudson, and that the city’s prohibition on solicitation should be reviewed as a restriction on commercial—as opposed to noncommercial—speech.  The court’s treatment of the ban as a commercial speech regulation was based entirely on the language of the ban, which prohibited solicitation “for the purpose of soliciting orders for the sale of goods, wares and merchandise, or for the purpose of disposing of or peddling or hawking such goods, wares and merchandise.”

Vivint Louisiana, LLC v. City of Shreveport, slip op., No. 15-0821, 2016 WL 5723983 (W.D. La. Sep. 30, 2016).

Last Friday, a federal district court in Florida found that the City of Tampa’s restriction on requests for donation or payment—aimed at preventing panhandling and solicitation on city streets—violated the First Amendment.  The court’s decision follows on several other decisions around the country that have invalidated bans on solicitation of donations on the grounds that such bans are not content neutral. Continue Reading Tampa Panhandling Ban Found Unconstitutional

The American Bar Association Sections of State and Local Government and Civil Rights and Social Justice are teaming up for a webinar on June 14, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. ET to discuss recent court decisions on the sticky issue of panhandling and solicitation.  Since the Supreme Court decided Reed v. Town of Gilbert, many local regulations relating to panhandling and solicitation have been invalidated by the lower courts.  Rocky Mountain Sign Law has covered several of these cases.  This webinar will discuss the ins and outs of some of these cases, and provide some practical advice for government officials, planners, and lawyers on how to address issues of panhandling and solicitation.

Otten Johnson lawyer Brian Connolly will serve as one of the panelists, along with Joe Mead of Cleveland State University and Kirsten Clanton of Southern Legal Counsel.  Sorell Negro of Robinson & Cole will moderate.

Check the ABA’s website for more details on registration here.  Those interested should plan on tuning in.

Bloomington, Minnesota required door-to-door solicitors to obtain a city-issued license.  The regulation defined solicitor in part as “an individual who goes from place-to-place . . . without an invitation from the owner or occupant, for the purpose of: (1) advertising, promoting, selling, leasing, installing or explaining any product, service, organization or cause; (2) seeking donations of money or property on behalf of any nonprofit, political or educational organization or for the purpose of procuring orders for the sale of merchandise or personal services for future delivery or future performance.”  A First Amendment challenge was brought by a nonprofit labor organization.  The federal district court found that the ordinance’s definition of “solicitor” was facially content based and subject to strict scrutiny.  The court held that the ordinance’s crime prevention goals were not a compelling governmental interest, and that the city had not chosen the least restrictive means of preventing crime.

Working America, Inc. v. City of Bloomington, ___ F. Supp. 3d ___, 2015 WL 67567089 (D. Minn. Nov. 4, 2015)

The post-Reed assault on panhandling bans continued when a federal court in Massachusetts held that the City of Worcester’s ordinance prohibiting aggressive panhandling was content based and unconstitutional.  In 2014, in an opinion authored by retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that Worcester’s anti-panhandling ordinance was content neutral and constitutional.  Following Reed, the Supreme Court granted a cert petition in the case, vacated the First Circuit decision, and remanded the matter back to the court of appeals.  The First Circuit then vacated its opinion and judgment and remanded to the district court for further consideration in light of Reed.  Back at the district court, the ordinances—which defined “begging” or “panhandling” as “asking for money or objects of value with the intention that the money or object be transferred at that time and at that place” and also defined “aggressive manner”—were found to be content based, since they applied to particular speech based on the content of the speech.  The court went on to find that the ordinance was not narrowly tailored, as it was not the least restrictive means of achieving the governmental interest at stake.   Continue Reading Another Anti-Panhandling Ordinance Bites the Dust

Following the Seventh Circuit’s invalidation of Springfield’s anti-panhandling ordinance, the city amended its municipal code’s provisions regarding panhandling.  The new code provisions prohibited panhandling “[p]anhandling while at any time before, during, or after the solicitation knowingly approaching within five feet of the solicited person,” and defined “panhandling” as a “vocal appeal” for an immediate donation.  Distinguishing the city’s ordinance from the Colorado law at issue in the 2000 Supreme Court case of Hill v. Colorado, the district court found that the new code provisions were content based.  Because the ordinance applied only in cases where the requestor asked for an immediate donation of money or other gratuity while within five feet of the solicited person, the district court found the ordinance content based and concluded that the city could not meet strict scrutiny.

Norton v. City of Springfield, No. 15-3276, slip op., 2015 WL 8023461 (C.D. Ill. Dec. 4, 2015)

Plaintiff Recycle for Change uses unattended donation and collection boxes in Oakland, California to collect donations of used textiles.  Oakland passed an ordinance requiring such boxes to be permitted, which in turn requires payment of a permitting fee of $535.  The ordinance additionally imposed dispersal requirements between such boxes, as well as the location and physical characteristics of such boxes.  The federal district court found that the ordinance did not constitute a total ban on the boxes and, because it only regulated the physical characteristics of donation boxes, did not constitute a content based regulation.  Because the plaintiff was unlikely to succeed on the merits, the court denied the motion for preliminary injunction.

Recycle for Change v. City of Oakland, No. 15-CV-05093-WHO, slip op., 2016 WL 344751 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 28, 2016)

In late February, a federal district court upheld the City of Desloge, Missouri’s prohibition on persons entering into the public right-of-way for the purpose distributing anything to the occupant of a vehicle.  Distinguishing the city’s law from those at issue in aggressive panhandling cases such as Thayer v. City of Worcester, the court held that the restriction applied to “the exchange of any item without regard to communicative content.”  

This decision is the latest in a case that was originally filed by the Ku Klux Klan against the City of Desloge in 2012 challenging the city’s ordinances regarding distribution of leaflets and pamphlets in public right-of-ways.  

Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan v. City of Desloge, No. 4:13-CV-810 NAB, Slip Op., 2016 WL 705128 (E.D. Mo. Feb. 23, 2016)