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.
Continue Reading District Court Finds in Favor of Pittsburgh Buffer Zone Law

Klyde Warren Park in Dallas. Source: klydewarrenpark.org

Last month, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a restriction on structures larger than four feet by four feet in a Dallas, Texas park did not constitute a violation of the First Amendment.  The plaintiff, an evangelical Christian who wished to spread his message in the park, was denied on his motion for a preliminary injunction.

Ricky Moore, the plaintiff, wished to use Klyde Warren Park in Dallas to share his religious message with others.  To do so, he uses a portable sketch board, which is four feet wide and six feet tall, on which he paints riddles.  The riddles are intended to attract people to stop by and ask him about them.  The park rules prohibit structures larger than four feet by four feet without a permit.  Beginning in 2013, Moore’s activities drew the attention of enforcement personnel at the park.  In 2015, he received a criminal trespass warning.  After the park’s regulators suggested that Moore could apply for a special event permit to erect his sketch board in the park, Moore sued the city on First Amendment grounds.
Continue Reading Restrictions on Structures in Dallas Park Upheld

Signs on the pedestrian overpass in Campbell, Wisconsin. Source: Milwaukee Journal.

Late last week, in a case that involved made-for-TV shenanigans by a local police officer, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a town’s total ban on signs, flags, and banners within 100 feet of an interstate highway could survive with respect to overhead signs, but remanded the case for additional proceedings with respect to other parts of the ban.

Campbell, Wisconsin bans all signs, flags, and banners along interstate highways.  The town enacted its regulation after members of the community hung political protest banners containing messages commonly identified with the Tea Party on a pedestrian overpass over Interstate 90.

Following the enactment of the regulation, the local police began issuing citations to individuals displaying signs along the highway.  Some of the individual sign-posters took videos of the police issuing citations—including in response to the protesters’ display of American flags and other patriotic signs along the interstate highway.  Concerned about the videos, in an apparent attempt at vigilante justice, the local police chief posted the name and email address of one of the Tea Party sign-posters on same-sex dating and pornographic websites.  The police chief also took to local newspapers to accuse the man of failing to pay his taxes. 
Continue Reading Amid Interstate Overpass Soap Opera, Seventh Circuit Says No Empirical Evidence Required to Support Sign Regulation

Day laborers in Oyster Bay. Source: New York Times.

On Tuesday, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Town of Oyster Bay, New York’s prohibition on motor vehicle solicitation of employment violated the First Amendment.  The appellate court’s ruling affirms an earlier district court ruling that found similarly.  The plaintiffs in the case were two groups that advocate for the interests of day laborers.

Oyster Bay enacted an ordinance in 2009 that read, in relevant part, “It shall be unlawful for any person standing within or adjacent to any public right-of-way within the Town of Oyster Bay to stop or attempt to stop any motor vehicle utilizing said public right-of-way for the purpose of soliciting employment of any kind from the occupants of said motor vehicle.”  Oyster Bay’s ordinance was ostensibly an effort to curb day laborer solicitation.
Continue Reading Second Circuit Affirms District Court Injunction Against Oyster Bay Solicitation Ordinance

Twin Oaks Park, the site of the photography dispute. Source: STLtoday.com

Last year, we reported on a case in Twin Oaks, Missouri, where a local wedding photographer, Josephine Havlak, challenged a town ordinance limiting commercial activity in a public park.  Late last month, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of the photographer’s motion for preliminary injunction, finding the ordinance content neutral and constitutional as applied to the photographer.

The facts of the case can be found on our post from last year.

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit first evaluated whether the plaintiff’s claim was an as-applied challenge or a facial challenge to the entire ordinance.  A facial challenge can result in invalidation of the entire ordinance, while an as-applied challenge only prohibits enforcement of the ordinance against the plaintiff.  Because the photographer failed to provide any evidence that third parties would be affected in a manner different from her, the court determined that Havlak’s challenge was an as-applied challenge.  Thus, the court only analyzed the ordinance’s application to the plaintiff.
Continue Reading Eighth Circuit Upholds Denial of Preliminary Injunction in Photography Case

Sam Shaw and one of his signs. Source: Indiana Public Media.

Last week, a federal district court in Indiana ruled that the enforcement of the City of Bedford’s sign ordinance would not be enjoined, finding that the sign code was content neutral, supported by a significant governmental interest, and narrowly tailored.  The court’s denial of the preliminary injunction indicates that the ordinance is likely to survive constitutional scrutiny.
Continue Reading Indiana Town’s Sign Ordinance Withstands Motion for Preliminary Injunction

This post was originally authored by Evan J. Seeman of Robinson & Cole LLP on the RLUIPA Defense blog.  We have re-posted it here with permission.  The original post can be found here.  Any views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Otten Johnson Robinson Neff + Ragonetti, P.C.

Last year, we reported about a case in which the city of St. Michael, Minnesota utilized RLUIPA’s “safe harbor” provision to avoid liability under the act’s substantial burden and equal terms provisions.  While the federal court found for the city as to Riverside Church’s RLUIPA claims at the summary judgment stage, the court concluded that there were genuine issues of fact regarding Riverside’s free speech claim that could only be resolved at trial.  Following a several-week-long trial, the court late last month issued its decision and found that the city’s zoning ordinance violated Riverside’s right to free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and awarded Riverside $1,354,595 in damages.

Riverside identified property in the city’s B-1 district as an ideal satellite location to accommodate its growing congregation.  Riverside would use the new location much like a movie theater, where it would broadcast religious worship services being held at its primary church in Big Lake, Minnesota.  The property was already suited for Riverside’s intended use, since it had previously been operated as a 15-screen movie theatre, with nearly 2,800 seats, a maximum capacity of over 3,600 people, and having more than 91,000 square feet.  Although Riverside sought to use the property in much the same way as a movie theatre – an allowed use under the zoning code for this B-1 district – the city concluded that the proposed use was not allowed since “collective religious worship” was not among the uses permitted in this district.
Continue Reading RLUIPA Defense: Church Wins Free Speech Claim Over Zoning Ordinance and $1,354,595 in Damages

A 20-foot buffer zone at a Planned Parenthood facility in Harrisburg. Source: PennLive.com.

Last week, in a case that we reported on last summer involving protests near abortion clinics in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction back to the district court, finding that the lower court misapplied the narrow tailoring analysis.

The facts of the case, which challenges Harrisburg’s protest-free buffer zone requirement around abortion clinics, can be found on our post from last fall.  The buffer zone in question is a 20-foot zone extending from the entrance to a reproductive health care clinic in which congregating, patrolling, picketing, and demonstrating are unlawful.  Following the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs appealed that ruling to the Third Circuit. 
Continue Reading Harrisburg Abortion Clinic Case Remanded Back to District Court

Donation boxes in Oakland, California. Source: East Bay Express.

Yesterday, in a case that we have been following for the past year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a California federal district court’s denial of a motion for preliminary injunction in a case pertaining to unattended donation and collection boxes in Oakland.

The plaintiff, a nonprofit group called Recycle for Change, places donation and collection boxes around Oakland in order to obtain donated materials for the dual purpose of conserving environmental resources and raising funds for charity.  The city enacted an ordinance in 2015 to regulate unattended donation and collection boxes, which included a requirement that the property owner or operator of the boxes obtain a permit, produce a site plan, and carry at least $1 million in liability insurance.  The license fee established under the permitting scheme is $246 per year, and the initial application fee for the permit is $535.  The city’s regulations require maintenance of the boxes, place restrictions on the size and location of the boxes, and prohibit the placement of boxes within 1,000 feet of one another.

Recycle for Change sued Oakland on First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause grounds.  The district court denied the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Affirms Denial of Preliminary Injunction in Oakland Donation Box Case