One of Morris’s murals in New Orleans. Source: The Advocate.

In October, a federal district court in Louisiana denied the City of New Orleans’s motion to dismiss a claim filed by an individual challenging the city’s permit requirement for murals.

In late 2017, Neal Morris, an owner of residential and commercial properties in New Orleans, sought information from the city about the permit process and approval criteria for placing murals on his properties.  When he did not receive the requested information, Morris commissioned an artist to paint a mural on one of his properties.  The mural contained the infamous vulgar quote by President Donald Trump on the “Access Hollywood” tape, but replaced certain of the inflammatory words with images.  Morris was subsequently cited with a violation of the city’s historic district regulations.

In response, Morris filed suit against the city, alleging that the permitting scheme violated his First Amendment rights.  Specifically, he claimed that the permit scheme was an unconstitutional prior restraint and that it was a content based regulation.  He also claimed due process and equal protection violations.  The city subsequently amended its regulations, and the court denied the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction as moot.  When the city then moved to dismiss the case, the plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion.

The court first found that the plaintiff had standing to challenge the mural ordinance.  Since the city was attempting to interfere with Morris’s placement of murals, the court found that he had standing.  The court moved on to analyze whether the mural ordinance is content neutral or an unconstitutional prior restraint.  The mural ordinance requires murals to be submitted to the city for design review, in which the city considers the mural’s compatibility with surrounding properties and neighborhoods and determines whether the mural furthers public welfare.  Because these analyses require analysis of the mural’s content, the court found that the regulation was content based.  Based on that finding, the court relied upon Thomas v. Chicago Park District to determine that the law was also an unconstitutional prior restraint, because it allowed unbridled administrative discretion in the issuance or denial of mural permits.

The court went on to find that Morris also pled sufficient facts to state an unconstitutional vagueness claim under the Due Process Clause, but dismissed the plaintiff’s “class of one” claim under the Equal Protection Clause.

Morris v. City of New Orleans, No. 18-2624, 2018 WL 5084890 (E.D. La. Oct. 18, 2018).

Two men were arrested for disorderly conduct in an anti-abortion demonstration in Little Rock, Arkansas.  In addition to bringing a Fourth Amendment claim against the Little Rock Police Department, the men challenged the Arkansas disorderly conduct statute and the city’s permit requirement as violations of their free speech rights under the First Amendment.  A federal district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed on appeal earlier this month.

Arkansas’s criminal code contains several actions that constitute disorderly conduct, including:  fighting; in violent, threatening, or tumultuous behavior; unreasonable or excessive noise; the use of “abusive or obscene language, or mak[ing] an obscene gesture, in a manner likely to provoke a violent or disorderly response; disruption or disturbance of meetings or gatherings; obstructing traffic; and other actions.  The plaintiffs argued that the statute was vague and overbroad.  The appeals court found that the statute was not vague, primarily because it contained a mens rea requirement—that is, that the violator have a particular intent to engage in disorderly conduct.  The court used similar logic in upholding the statute against the plaintiffs’ overbreadth claim, finding that the statute was content neutral and that its objective mens rea requirement precluded an overbreadth challenge. Continue Reading Arkansas Abortion Protesters Lose Appeal in Vagueness, Overbreadth, and Prior Restraint Case

The Gentleman’s Playground in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Source: Yelp

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

A few weeks ago, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s summary judgment order upholding Rocky Mount, North Carolina’s sexually-oriented business regulations against a First Amendment challenge by an exotic dance club known as “The Gentlemen’s Playground.”  As this is a professional blog, we will refrain from further commentary on the combination of the parties’ names, but invite our readers to conjure up whatever creative taglines come to mind.

American Entertainers has operated the club in Rocky Mount since 2002.  The city requires that all sexually oriented businesses obtain a license.  After discovering that The Gentlemen’s Playground was not licensed, the city sought to enforce its ordinance against the owner.  In response, American Entertainers challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  The district court granted summary judgment for the city.  On appeal the Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part.

American Entertainers asserted that the definition of “sexually oriented business” in the ordinance was overbroad, so as to encompass “conventional, mainstream arts and entertainment.”  The Fourth Circuit rejected the claim and found that the ordinance was adopted for a purpose unrelated to suppression of expression, i.e. to offset the deleterious consequences, like lower property values and increased rate of crime, that accompany exotic dance clubs.  The court further found that the licensing requirement materially advanced the city’s substantial interest.  According to the court, the licensing fee was an acceptable way for the city to counteract some of the administrative and enforcement burdens that exotic dance clubs bring to a city.  The court also found that the ordinance was narrowly tailored to this important interest, noting that American Entertainers offered no evidence that the license itself restricted free speech.

Additionally, American Entertainers challenged two of the license-denial provisions, including one that allowed the city’s police chief to deny a license if the business would not comply with “all applicable laws,” and another that prohibited any applicant under twenty one years old from obtaining a license to operate a sexually oriented business.  The appeals court held that the provision allowing denial for violation of applicable laws was an unconstitutional prior restraint.  It failed to limit the phrase “applicable laws” and was susceptible to the chief of police creating trivial reasons to deny a license.  Ultimately, the court remanded this issue to the district court to determine whether and to what extent this provision is severable from the rest of the ordinance.

Finally, the plaintiff argued that the age restriction infringed upon equal protection and the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.  However, because the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not recognize age as a suspect class, the age restriction needs only to be rationally related to the city’s interest.  The court had no difficulty reasoning that because alcohol is typically served at exotic dance venues, the age restriction was rationally related to the city’s interest in ensuring the business owners of sexually oriented businesses are of legal drinking age.  Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s denial of the Equal Protection challenge.

American Entertainers, L.L.C. v. City of Rocky Mount, 888 F.3d 707 (4th Cir. 2018).

In a case that we reported on earlier this year, a federal court in Pennsylvania has ruled that the failure to provide a deadline by which the government is required to make permitting decisions renders that state’s outdoor advertising law unconstitutional.  Nonetheless, PennDOT can remedy the problem by simply imposing internal processing timeframes.

The facts of the case can be found in our earlier post.

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the court found that the permitting provisions of the act violated the First Amendment.  Pennsylvania’s outdoor advertising law does not contain any deadlines by which the state must rule on a billboard permit application.  Under the Supreme Court’s rulings in City of Littleton v. Z.J. Gifts and Thomas v. Chicago Park District, a content based law must have a clear permitting timeframe in order to satisfy constitutional scrutiny.  The court determined that the Pennsylvania statute was content based, because it exempted “official signs” and “directional signs” from permitting.  As there was no timeframe required for the issuance of other permits, the court invalidated the permitting provisions of the statute.  Of course, PennDOT can remedy the constitutional violation by simply imposing internal permitting timeframes. Continue Reading Lack of Permitting Timeframes in Pennsylvania Billboard Law is Unconstitutional, But There’s An Easy Fix

Michael Fowler, a resident of Ventura County, California, cultivated a garden on a portion of his agriculturally-zoned 40 acre property and began renting it out for wedding ceremonies and similar events with much success. However, due to changes to the County’s permit requirements, Mr. Fowler is now required to obtain a conditional use permit (CUP) before hosting any additional weddings on his estate.  With reservations already on his books, Mr. Fowler submitted the required application.  Officials tasked with reviewing his application found that the use would cause no adverse impacts and recommended granting the permit; however, after receiving complaints from neighbors, these same officials denied his application.  The Board of Supervisors upheld the denial on appeal.  This seemingly capricious denial forced Mr. Fowler to chose between breaking the law and dashing the dreams of couples who had already booked his venue by essentially cancelling their weddings.  Sensibly, he chose the latter “option,” resulting in at least one scathing review of his business and untold reputational harm.

Thwarted but not defeated, Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Rules Against Ventura County Conditional Use Permitting Scheme

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

In July, a federal court in Wisconsin granted a preliminary injunction to Candy Lab, the maker of the popular “Pokemon Go” game, after Milwaukee County required the company to obtain a permit in order for players of its games to play in the county’s parks.

In 2016, Candy Lab released Pokemon Go, which allows players to use smartphones with location-sensing technology and “augmented reality”—whereby the phone displays an image suggesting that the image is physically present in front of the user—to play the game in a particular geolocation.  The runaway success of the game meant that many public parks became popular with players, including Milwaukee County’s Lake Park.  In summer 2016, the county observed large numbers of people playing the game in the park, and reported increases in litter, trampling of grass and flowers, players staying past the park’s closing hours. The park additionally had inadequate bathrooms, unauthorized vending, parking problems, and traffic congestion as a result of the game.  The county responded with an ordinance prohibiting virtual- and augmented-reality games in the county’s parks, except with a permit.  In 2017, Candy Lab released another augmented-reality game, Texas Rope ‘Em, but refused to obtain a permit from the county.  Candy Lab then sued the county, claiming a violation of its free speech rights. Continue Reading Court Grants Preliminary Injunction in Milwaukee “Texas Rope ‘Em” Case

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

One of International Outdoor’s billboards in the Detroit area. Source: International Outdoor.

Late last month, a federal court in Michigan granted in part and denied in part a motion to dismiss First Amendment claims filed by a billboard company, International Outdoor, against the City of Troy.  The billboard company claimed that Troy’s sign ordinance was content based and unconstitutional, and that it imposed an unconstitutional prior restraint.  The city moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims, and further argued that the billboard company lacked standing to bring the claims.

The court first reviewed the city’s challenge to International Outdoor’s standing, which asserted that International Outdoor failed to plead redressability.  In a short response, the court held that, because the challenge was a facial challenge to the entire sign ordinance, if the court were to strike down the entire ordinance, the plaintiff’s injury would be redressed. Continue Reading Billboard Company’s Challenge to Michigan Sign Code Survives Motion to Dismiss

“Sexy cops” patrolling the Las Vegas Strip. Source: loweringthebar.net.

This post was authored by Otten Johnson summer law clerk David Brewster.  David is a rising third-year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Last month, street performers in the Ninth Circuit got a bigger tip than anticipated when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Nevada federal district court’s order granting summary judgment to three Las Vegas police officers, where the police officers ticketed two street performers on the famous Las Vegas Strip.  In its ruling, the appeals court found that the street performers—who dressed up as “sexy cops” to take photos with tourists—could not constitutionally be required to obtain a business license for engaging in expressive activity and association.

Michele Santopietro is an actress turned street performer who occasionally dresses up as a “sexy cop” on the Las Vegas Strip.  In March of 2011, Santopietro and her colleague Lea Patrick performed as “sexy cops” on the Strip as they were approached by three individuals indicating a desire to take a photograph.  The “sexy cops” happily obliged.  Following the photograph, Patrick persistently reminded the three individuals that the “sexy cops” work for tips.  Unbeknownst to Santopietro and Patrick, the three individuals in question were real Las Vegas Metro police officers dressed down in street clothes.  Due to Patrick’s persistence and claim that the officer entered into a “verbal contract” to give a tip, the Metro police officers arrested the two women under Clark County Code § 6.56.030 which states: “It is unlawful for any person, in the unincorporated areas of the county to operate or conduct business as a temporary store, professional promoter or peddler, solicitor or canvasser without first having procured a license for the same.” Continue Reading Las Vegas “Sexy Cops” Don’t Need a Business License, At Least For Now