In mid-July, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s entry of summary judgment for the City of Shaker Heights, Ohio and one of its police officer co-defendants in a sign case arising out of animosity between two neighbors in the wealthy Cleveland-area suburb.
Upon the belief that her neighbors, Richard and Elizabeth Minkowetz, were committing acts of vandalism against her property, Gladys Wilson began posting signs in her windows facing the Minkowetzes’ property. Examples of the signs’ messages include “nasty lil twit,” “Peeping Tom Exposed,” “Zoomed Zapped and Snapped,” and “Thur. 10:50.” After the Minkowetzes complained to the city about the signs, the city dispatched one of its police officers to Wilson’s home, and she was later charged with disorderly conduct. In response, Wilson filed claims against the city, one of its police officers, and its prosecutor under Section 1983 alleging, among other things, a First Amendment retaliation claim. She also alleged malicious prosecution and equal protection claims.
The district court dismissed the prosecutor from the case on prosecutorial immunity grounds, and granted summary judgment in favor of the city and its police officer on the other claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding that the police officer who had initially approached Wilson did not have the retaliatory animus required in order for Wilson to prevail on her First Amendment claim. Although Wilson appeared to argue that her actions—hanging the signs on her home—were protected by the First Amendment, the appeals court could not find, based on the briefing and record in the case, that the city had engaged in First Amendment violations in charging her with disorderly conduct.