Protesters near Planned Parenthood in Pittsburgh. Source: CBS Pittsburgh.

Last week, a federal district court granted summary judgment to the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a long-running dispute over a buffer zone law applicable to protest activities outside of reproductive health facilities such as Planned Parenthood.  The court held that the city’s 15-foot buffer zone law was content neutral and narrowly tailored to a substantial governmental interest, and thus valid under the First Amendment.

Pittsburgh enacted its buffer zone law in 2005.  The initial buffer zone law initially imposed a 15-foot buffer zone around the entrance to a hospital or health care facility in which no person was permitted to congregate, patrol, picket, or demonstrate.  The buffer zone excepted public safety officers, emergency workers, employees or agents of the facility, and patients.  The law also imposed an eight-foot “personal” buffer zone around individuals.  In the eight-foot buffer zone, no person could approach an individual to provide a leaflet or to protest, where the individual was within 100 feet of a hospital or health care facility entrance.  The eight-foot personal buffer zone was struck down in the case of Brown v. City of Pittsburgh in 2009.  The 15-foot buffer zone remained in effect, but was challenged again in 2014 following the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley, in which the Court struck down a Massachusetts law imposing a 35-foot buffer zone around health care clinics.  The plaintiffs in the case are religiously-motivated protesters who engage in protest activities around a Planned Parenthood facility in Pittsburgh.  In 2016, as we reported, the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the case.
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The plaza in front of Pinnacle Bank Arena. Source: University of Nebraska.

Last week, a federal appeals court upheld an order granting summary judgment to the City of Lincoln, Nebraska in a case involving a prohibition on leafleting activity outside of the city’s basketball arena.  In the decision, the court determined that the plaza outside of the arena was a nonpublic forum, and that the city’s regulation met the basic requirement of reasonableness for regulations of speech in a nonpublic forum.

In 2010, Lincoln and the University of Nebraska created a joint agency to redevelop a portion of the city and to construct a new athletic arena for the university’s sports teams.  In connection with the redevelopment, new pedestrian areas were constructed, including a plaza immediately outside of the arena.  The city entered into a private management agreement allowing a concessionaire to manage and operate the arena and surrounding property.  After the arena opened in 2013, the concessionaire, SMG, adopted a policy establishing the plaza outside of the arena as a nonpublic forum, and specifically reserved use of the plaza for tenants of the arena.  Other pedestrian areas outside of the plaza were designated for public uses.
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Paula Soto speaking before the Cambridge City Council. Source: Cambridge Day.

This post was authored by Otten Johnson summer law clerk Alex Gano.  Alex is a rising third-year law student at the University of Colorado Law School.

Last week, a federal magistrate judge in Boston denied a plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment against the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a case involving a municipal ordinance and state law that (might) prohibit non-commercial leafletting of parked cars. The court held that the plaintiff’s case against the City was moot because the City had recently amended its ordinance to allow non-commercial leafletting on private property.  The court also considered and rejected the City’s motion to join the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to the case citing the Eleventh Amendment.  The order in Soto v. City of Cambridge acknowledges a circuit split over the constitutionality of laws banning non-commercial leafletting, but the court ultimately declined to weigh in on the controversy.
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