A local nuclear power activist, who expresses concern about the possibility of a nuclear meltdown at a Massachusetts nuclear power, watched his First Amendment claims against the Town of Rowley “melt down” late month. A federal district court in Massachusetts entered judgment on the pleadings in favor of the town, finding it did not engage in viewpoint discrimination, retaliation, or selective enforcement.
Stephen Comley, a town resident, posted signs in public right-of-ways throughout the town pertaining to his concerns about safety at the Seabrook Power Plant. In 2015, Comley appeared before the town’s governing body to demand that the town take action against the power plant. Following Comley’s appearance before the town board, he noticed that his signs began disappearing from the public right-of-ways, which reportedly hosted several other signs relating to elections and other subjects. He then brought First Amendment claims for viewpoint discrimination, retaliation, and selective enforcement.
On a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the district court found that the plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts for the case to survive. With respect to viewpoint discrimination, the court found that the plaintiff failed to specify the locations of his signs, and Comley also failed to indicate who placed other political signs and when they were placed. The court also found that Comley failed to show retaliatory behavior by the town, since he did not provide any causal link between the removal of his signs and his appearance before the town board. Regarding his selective enforcement claim, the court found that Comley had not established any similarly situated comparators from which selective enforcement could be determined. The court also rejected Comley’s civil conspiracy claim and a state law claim pertaining to removal of election-related signage.